Nearly everyone agrees that human trafficking is a serious crime, and most people know that there are laws against it. However, what fewer people might realize is that the laws against human trafficking are not just federal or international. Human trafficking is also punished by state laws. This includes the laws of Massachusetts.
In many ways, that makes sense. After all, human trafficking can happen anywhere at anytime. In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 339 reports of human trafficking in Massachusetts. Of these reports, 93 were verified cases of human trafficking. The most common type was sex trafficking (72 cases).
What is human trafficking?
According to the United Nations, human trafficking is “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception, with the aim exploiting them for profit.” The exploitation can take many different forms, like physical abuse, sexual abuse, blackmail, or emotional manipulation.
Common types of human trafficking occurring around the world include:
- Sexual exploitation
- Forced labor
- Debt bondage
- Domestic servitude
- Organ removal
- Forced begging
- Child soldiers
- Forced marriages
How does Massachusetts punish human trafficking?
In 2011, Massachusetts became the 48th state in the country to pass a law against human trafficking. Today, human trafficking in Massachusetts is punished under two different statutes. These laws are divided between sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
What is sex trafficking?
Sex trafficking is punished under General Laws Chapter 265, Section 50. The law makes it illegal to intentionally or knowingly force or trick a person into engaging in sexual activities. This includes commercial sexual activity like prostitution as well as creating illegal pornography. The law also punishes those who profit from financially from forcing or tricking another into engaging in sexual activity. Both people and business organizations can be punished under the law.
The penalties are very strict when the victim is a child, or the perpetrator is a business:
- When the victim is under 18 years old, five years to life without parole
- When the perpetrator is a business, a fine of up to $1 million
Finally, the statute allows victims of sex trafficking to sue people or businesses.
What is labor trafficking?
Labor trafficking is a crime under General Laws Chapter 265, Section 51. This law makes it illegal to intentionally or knowingly force or trick a person into performing services. In summary, labor trafficking is essentially enslaving another person.
Like sex trafficking a person under 18 years old, the punishment for committing this crime is up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
When the victim is not under 18, the penalty is 5 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. The 5 years is a mandatory minimum, which means a person convicted cannot be let out on parole or otherwise have their sentence limited until those years are up.
Also identical to the sex trafficking law, businesses can be prosecuted and fined up to $1 million and face a civil lawsuit. Individual perpetrators could also be sued.
How have the human trafficking laws been enforced?
Although human trafficking is a serious issue, the laws against this crime are difficult to enforce. Part of the reason is that much human trafficking goes undetected by law enforcement. Another reason is the burden of proof. The government has the burden of proving all parts or elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. When the Commonwealth cannot meet its burden, a person must be acquitted.
Attacking the sufficiency of the evidence is often a strategy used by criminal defense attorneys. For complicated crimes like sex and labor trafficking, there are many elements, which makes it harder for the government to meet its burden. For example, when a crime requires intent or knowledge this means that there must be evidence related to the accused’s state of mind. Jurors are allowed to make inferences, but it can often be difficult to show that a person was thinking a certain way at a certain time, especially when the standard is the very high one of beyond a reasonable doubt.
So far, the Commonwealth’s track record on enforcing its human trafficking laws has been poor. For example, according to one report, between February 2012 and August 2019 only four people were charged with labor trafficking. There were no guilty convictions. This was so even though the Massachusetts law on labor trafficking is much broader than the federal anti-labor trafficking law which requires as an element fraud, force, or coercion.
Are there any other Massachusetts laws on human trafficking?
The answer is yes, but these laws are more administrative.
For example, one law establishes a Victims of Human Trafficking Trust Fund. People who are convicted of human trafficking in Massachusetts will have to give up any money they made from their crimes and as well as any other assets involved. This is called forfeiture. The money given up is pooled in an account managed by the State Treasurer and given back to victims to compensate them.
Another law establishes a task force called the Interagency Human Trafficking Policy Task Force. This 19-member government group has four main jobs:
- Collect, analyze, and share data on human trafficking in Massachusetts
- Review and recommend policies to combat human trafficking in Massachusetts
- Review and recommend policies on compensating victims of human trafficking in Massachusetts
- Offer recommendations on how to raise public awareness on human trafficking
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH HUMAN TRAFFICKING OR ANOTHER SEX CRIME, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.