Federal Human Trafficking Laws

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  3. Federal Human Trafficking Laws

Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000--USC, Title 22, Chapter 78

Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 was the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking. The TVPA has been amended several times. In addition, other legislation has passed to enhance federal efforts to combat human trafficking. This section provides a brief introduction to related federal laws. It does not provide the specific text for each related piece of legislation, as they are lengthy and somewhat complicated.



Human Trafficking as Defined by TVPA

According to the TVPA, human trafficking is:

  • A crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purpose of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion.
  • Where a person younger than 18 is induced to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud or coercion.



Key Elements of TVPA

The chart below outlines the key elements of human trafficking as per the TVPA (adapted from Office on Trafficking in Persons, 2018).


Human Trafficking is a Crime Involving Exploitation of a Person...(As per TVPA)
Exploitive Actions Means to Exploit* General Purpose of Exploitation
  • Recruiting includes proactive targeting of vulnerability and grooming behaviors
  • Harboring includes isolation, confinement, monitoring
  • Transporting includes movement and arranging travel
  • Providing includes giving to another individual
  • Obtaining includes forcibly taking, exchanging something for ability to control
  • *Soliciting includes offering something of value
  • *Patronizing includes receiving something of value

*Only for sex trafficking

  • Force
  • Fraud
  • Coercion

* No force, fraud or coercion is needed for commercial sex acts to be criminal as per TVPA if a victim is under 18 years of age

Profit from the following victims’ activities:


  • Compelled labor or services
  • Commercial sex acts


The TVPA identifies two purposes of trafficking humans: (1) commercial sex acts; and (2) compelled labor or services.


Sex Trafficking

Under the TVPA, sex trafficking is the:


  • Recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, soliciting and/or patronizing of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion. However, as mentioned earlier, persons under age 18 who perform a commercial sex act are considered under the TVPA to be victims of human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud or coercion was present. (22 USC §7102)
  • Commercial sex act is any sex action on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.


Labor Trafficking

Under the TVPA, labor trafficking is the:


  • Recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion, for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, peonage or slavery. (22 USC §7102)

These are the definitions of the purposes of the labor trafficking:


  • Involuntary Servitude: Any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that, if the person did not enter into or continue in such condition, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint; or the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.
  • Debt Bondage: Includes a pledge of services by the debtor or someone under the debtor’s control to pay down known or unknown charges (e.g., fees for transportation, boarding, food, and other incidentals; interest, fines for missing quotas, and charges for “bad behavior). The length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined, where an individual is trapped in a cycle of debt that he or she can never pay down.
  • Peonage: A status or condition of involuntary servitude based on real or alleged indebtedness.
  • Slavery: A state of being under the ownership or control of someone where a person is forced to work for another.



Legislation Highlights

See the below highlights of TVPA provisions, amendments and related legislation:


TVPA Provision Highlights

(drawn primarily from Polaris Project’s Current Federal Laws webpage, 2018)


TVPA 2000

  • Works to prosecute traffickers, by establishing human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes and attaches severe penalties to them.
  • Mandates restitution be paid to victims of human trafficking.
  • Work to prevent trafficking by establishing the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which publishes a trafficking in persons (TIP) report each year that describes and ranks the efforts of countries to combat human trafficking.
  • Established the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, which assists in the implementation of the TVPA.
  • Protects victims of human trafficking by establishing the T visa, allowing victims and their families to become temporary U.S. residents and eligible to become permanent residents after three years.


Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 (TVPRA of 2003)

  • Established a federal, civil right of action for trafficking victims to sue their traffickers.
  • Added human trafficking to the list of crimes that can be charged under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute.
  • Included additional provisions to protect victims and their families from deportation.
  • Requires that the Attorney General report to Congress annually on the activities of the U.S. government in the fight against trafficking.


TVPRA of 2005

  • Included a pilot program for sheltering minors who are victims of human trafficking.
  • Included grant programs to assist state and local law enforcement in combatting trafficking.
  • Expanded measures to combat trafficking internationally, including provisions to fight sex tourism, a $5 million pilot program for treatment of trafficking victims abroad, and a strengthening of the regulation over government contracts to ensure they are not made with individuals or organizations that promote or engage in human trafficking.


TVPRA of 2008

  • Included several new prevention strategies, including requirements that the government provide information about workers’ rights to all people applying for work and education-based visas. Put in place new systems to gather and report human trafficking data.
  • Expanded the protections available with the T visa and required that all unaccompanied alien children be screened as potential victims of human trafficking.
  • Enhanced criminal sanctions against traffickers, and expanded definitions of various types of trafficking to make prosecution easier.


TVPRA of 2013

(passed as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act)

  • Establishes and strengthens programs to ensure that U.S. citizens do not purchase products made by victims of human trafficking and to prevent child marriage.
  • Puts into place emergency response provisions within the State Department to respond quickly to disaster areas and crises where people are particularly susceptible to being trafficked.
  • Strengthens collaboration with state and local law enforcement to ease charging and prosecuting traffickers.


Related Legislation

(drawn primarily from Polaris Project’s Current Federal Laws webpage, 2018)


Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015

  • Strengthen services for victims via changes in the criminal liability of buyers of commercial sex from victims of trafficking, the creation of a survivor-led U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, and new directives for implementing a national strategy for combating human trafficking.
  • Requires the creation of a domestic trafficking victim’s fund to support victim assistance programs, block grants for child trafficking deterrence programs, and additional training requirements for first responders, among others.
  • Amended the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) by declaring youth who are victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons are eligible for services under the RHYA.
  • Amended the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) by adding human trafficking and child pornography as forms of child abuse.


Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014

  • Requires child welfare systems to improve their response to sex trafficking by:
    • Screening and identifying youth who are sex trafficking victims or those who are at risk for sex trafficking
    • Providing appropriate services to youth who experience sex trafficking
    • Reporting missing children to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
    • Develop protocols for locating missing or runaway children and determine what circumstances they faced while away from care
  • Requires state child welfare agencies to report instances of sex trafficking to law enforcement and provide information regarding sex trafficking victims or at-risk youth to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who will in turn report these numbers to Congress.


New federal legislation is likely to continue to emerge around this issue.


For example, in 2018, Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) became law. This legislation amended Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act so that online companies may now be prosecuted for participating in or knowingly assisting, support or facilitating sex trafficking.




Information in this section was drawn from WV FRIS’s SASTA Course on Human Trafficking, Module 1, What is Human Trafficking and Why Do Advocates Need to Know.


Office on Trafficking in Persons. (2018). Fact sheet: Human trafficking, OTIP-FS-18-01. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children and Families.


Polaris Project. Current federal laws [Webpage]. Washington, DC: Author.

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