Florida lawmakers have recently been focusing on increased efforts to combat the crime of human trafficking. The result of these efforts has been new legislation criminalizing a broad range of conduct most people don’t realize is connected with human trafficking. News headlines of human trafficking arrests have been increasing across the state, with many individuals facing lengthy prison sentences for these crimes.
Many people have difficulty distinguishing between the crimes of human trafficking and prostitution. The key difference is essentially consent or coercion. Prostitution criminalizes the exchange of sexual acts for money with consenting individuals. Human trafficking is considered by the Florida legislature to be modern-day slavery involving an element of coercion that isn’t present in prostitution. Human trafficking also includes trafficking individuals for labor or services. Most prostitution offenses are misdemeanors, while human trafficking offenses are felonies carrying much harsher sentences.
Under current Florida law, the crime of human trafficking is defined as any person who knowingly, or in reckless disregard of the facts, engages or attempts to engage in human trafficking, or benefits financially by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture that has subjected a person to human trafficking for labor or services or commercial sexual activity, or using coercion for labor, services, or commercial sexual activity.
Coercion is broadly defined under Florida’s human trafficking statutes. It includes using or threatening to use physical force; restraining, isolating, confining, or threatening to restrain, isolate, or confine any person unlawfully against their will; using lending or other credit methods to establish a debt by any person when labor or services are pledged as a security for the debt if the value of the labor or services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt, or the length and nature of the labor or services are not respectively limited and defined; destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating, withholding, or possessing any actual or purported passport, immigration document, or government identification of any person; causing or threatening to cause financial harm to any person; enticing or luring any person by fraud or deceit; or providing a controlled substance to any person for the purpose of exploiting them.
The human trafficking crimes listed above are first-degree felonies punishable by up to 30 years in prison for each offense, unless the victim is under the age of 18, or mentally defective or mentally incapacitated as defined by statute. In those instances, human trafficking is a life felony punishable by up to life in prison. Being charged with a life felony often results in no bond and having to remain in jail while the case is pending. Due to the nature of the conduct involved in human trafficking, those charged with human trafficking may also be charged with other serious crimes such as money laundering, racketeering, and prostitution offenses.
Human trafficking busts have been making headlines across the state recently. On May 16, 2019, nine individuals were arrested for human trafficking and related charges as a result of an anonymous tip alleging the individuals were responding to an internet post offering sex for money. The victim in the case was a minor being trafficked for sex by her legal guardian. Those arrested included a lieutenant firefighter, restaurant owner, retired postal inspector, and active ICE detainer. The nine individuals were each charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit human trafficking, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, lewd and lascivious battery, and human trafficking as a life felony. The legal guardian of the child was also arrested and could be facing up to life in prison depending on their charges. Law enforcement investigations into massage parlors engaged in human trafficking have also resulted in several recent arrests, including the arrest of the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, for charges of soliciting prostitution in January of 2019.
Given the complex nature of human trafficking cases and the current push for these cases to be aggressively prosecuted, anyone charged with human trafficking or a related offense should contact a criminal defense attorney experienced in handling these matters.