A. Federal Statutes Governing Sex Trafficking
Seven federal statutes govern sex trafficking crimes: 18 U.S.C. §§ 1581, 1583, 1584, 1591 (the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, discussed below), 2421, 2422, and 2423 of the U.S. Code. Sections 1581, 1583, and 1584, codified after the Civil War in response to the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibit holding or returning any person to a condition of peonage; kidnapping, enticing, persuading, or inducing a person to go to another place with the intent that he or she may be sold into involuntary servitude or held as a slave; and knowingly and willfully holding or selling into involuntary servitude or bringing within the United States any person so held. The punishment for all of these crimes is a fine, imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both. However:
If death results from the violation of this section, or if the violation includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or the attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, the defendant shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or life, or both.
Sections 2421-2424, which collectively constitute the Mann Act, prohibit knowingly transporting an individual for purposes of prostitution. For the criminal provisions of the Mann Act to apply, a showing of force, fraud, or coercion of the prostituted individual need not be made; however, there must be evidence that the prostituted person was involved in interstate or international travel. The crime carries a ten-year maximum sentence, which is increased to twenty years if the perpetrator uses enticement or coercion. If the prostituted individual is under 18, the crime carries a five-year minimum and thirty-year maximum penalty.
Federal law has long criminalized patronizing the sex trafficking industry. Traveling across state lines or into the United States for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct (which includes any commercial sex act with a person under eighteen) is prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b) and carries a thirty-year maximum sentence.
This substantial body of law addressing human trafficking, and even sex trafficking explicitly, existed prior to 2000. However, the patchwork nature of the laws, their limited criminal penalties, and their lack of victim protections, ultimately led Congress to find that they were inadequate to address modern trafficking.