Federal Sex Trafficking Penalties

Sex trafficking involves making individuals perform commercial sex acts using force, fraud, or coercion. Minors under 18 years of age engaging in commercial sex are considered victims of sex trafficking, regardless of if the use of force, fraud, or coercion is involved. 

Although sex trafficking can be charged as a state crime, if the offense affects interstate or foreign commerce or involves traveling state-to-state or internationally, sex trafficking would be considered a federal crime, according to Title 18 of the United States Code and the Mann Act. 

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), as amended by the Justice of Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA), defines sex trafficking as “recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of an individual through the means of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex.” A “commercial sex act” is defined as performing any form of sexual contact in exchange for anything of value. 

The following is an overview of the different types of penalties associated with federal sex trafficking, according to each specific offense. The fines are generally worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Trafficking in Children & Others for Sex Acts 

18 U.S.C. § 1591 covers sex trafficking involving both adults and children, making it an offense to knowingly recruit, harbor, entice, provide, transport, obtain, or maintain an adult or minor.  

If the victim is under 14 years of age and the offense involves force, fraud, or coercion, then a conviction carries a federal prison term between 15 years and a life sentence, as well as a fine. If the victim is between the age of 14 and 17, a conviction is punishable by imprisonment ranging from 10 years to a life sentence, as well as a fine. 

Trafficking Involving Peonage, Involuntary Servitude, or Forced Labor 

A person violates 18 U.S.C. § 1590 if he/she “knowingly recruits, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains by any means, any person for labor or services in violation of” the statutory provisions that prohibit peonage, forced labor, involuntary servitude, and slavery. A conviction is punishable by a maximum federal prison sentence of 20 years and a fine. 

Peonage 

A person violates 18 U.S.C. § 1581 by holding or placing someone into the condition of peonage, which means involuntary servitude based on actual or alleged indebtedness. A conviction carries a federal prison term of up to 20 years and a fine. 

Sale into Involuntary Servitude 

A person violates 18 U.S.C. § 1584(a) by holding or selling someone for involuntary servitude or bringing a person into the U.S. held in servitude. A conviction is punishable by federal imprisonment for up to 20 years and a fine. 

Enticement into Slavery 

A person violates 18 U.S.C. § 1583 by kidnapping someone to hold that individual as a slave or sell that individual into involuntary servitude. Section 1583 also prohibits a person to entice, persuade, or induce someone to go on a vessel or any other place for the purpose of holding that individual as a slave or sending that individual abroad for the purpose of slavery. A conviction is punishable by federal imprisonment for up to 30 years and a fine. 

Forced Labor 

A person violates 18 U.S.C. § 1589 by knowingly obtaining the labor or services of someone else by (1) actual or threatened force or physical restraint; (2) actual or threatened serious harm, including to a third party; (3) actual or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or (4) a scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that he or she would suffer serious harm or physical restraint if the victim did not perform such services. Anyone who financially benefits from a forced labor scheme can be charged with this crime. A conviction carries a maximum federal prison sentence of 20 years and a fine. 

Documents to Further Peonage, Involuntary Servitude, or Forced Labor 

A person violates 18 U.S.C. § 1592 by knowingly destroying, removing, confiscating, concealing, or possessing another person’s actual or purported passport or government-issued identification document either in connection to intended violations of the above-mentioned sex trafficking offenses, or to actually or attempting to restrict an individual’s freedom of movement or travel for the purpose of maintaining his/her services. A conviction is punishable by federal imprisonment for up to five years and a fine. 

Interstate Sex Trafficking Offenses 

A person violates 18 U.S.C. § 2422 by knowingly enticing, inducing, coercing, or persuading someone to travel in interstate or foreign commerce to engage in prostitution or commit another criminal sex act. A conviction carries a maximum federal prison term of up to 20 years. If a person used mail or any form of electronic communication to knowingly entice, induce, coerce, or persuade a minor under 18 to engage in prostitution or any other criminal sex act, a conviction is punishable by imprisonment ranging from 10 years to a life sentence and a fine. 

A person violates 18 U.S.C. § 2423 by transporting a minor in interstate or foreign commerce to engage in prostitution or other criminal sexual activity. A conviction is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine. 

If a person engages in “illicit sexual conduct” while traveling in interstate commerce or entering the U.S., a conviction carries a maximum federal prison sentence of 30 years and a fine. 

If you have been accused of federal sex trafficking in Massachusetts, New York, or New Hampshire, call Brad Bailey Law at (617) 500-0252 or fill out our online contact form today to schedule a free consultation. Attorney Bailey is a former federal prosecutor with more than 50 years of trial-tested experience! 

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