In 2011 Massachusetts joined almost every other state in the union by enacting a statute designed to target human trafficking. The law titled “An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People” criminalized sex trafficking and forced labor.
Massachusetts General Laws chapter 265 § 51 allows for criminal prosecution of persons who provide or obtain another person to engage in forced services. Specifically, the law states: “Whoever knowingly: (i) subjects, or attempts to subject, another person to forced services, or recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides or obtains by any means or attempts to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide or obtain by any means, another person, intending or knowing that such person will be subjected to forced services; or (ii) benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, as a result of a violation of clause (i), shall be guilty of trafficking of persons for forced services…”
A person convicted under this statute faces imprisonment of not less than 5 years nor more than 20 years. If the person trafficked is under 17 the person can be sentenced up to life in prison. An individual can be fined up to $25,000 and a business entity can be fined up to $1,000,000.
Human trafficking gets a lot of attention but there are still relatively few prosecutions in Massachusetts. Most of the cases that I’ve handled involved massage studios where one more of the massage therapists provide sexual services to their clients. When police confront the employee(s) offering extra services, human trafficking charges arise if the employee(s) claim that they forced to perform these services. Those claims need to be viewed with both concern and suspicion. A victim of human trafficking may not have the opportunity to tell law enforcement officials what has happened to them until that moment but one must also consider that if a person is confronted by police officers with the option of being a criminal (prostitute) or victim (of sex trafficking) there is an incentive to choose the latter. If the person accused of prostitution is not a US citizen, prostitution will get them deported; being the victim of sex trafficking may get them a visa. Let me be clear, sex trafficking occurs and is a legitimate threat but as long as prostitution is criminalized, investigations into sex trafficking can be tainted by the understandable self-interest of the key witnesses (the people doing the sex work.)
So before you assume sex trafficking, consider that it may just be prostitution. Consider that investigations into sex trafficking may really just be prostitution stings with a better title to make police intrusion seem more noble.
To be clear, I view prostitution as an unfortunate but consensual agreement between two parties (assuming that all people involved are old enough to enter such an agreement). I believe that people who engage in prostitution are victims of dire economic circumstances and likely feel they have no better alternative. Human trafficking or sex trafficking, on the other hand, involves involuntary servitude by individuals forced to participate in sexual acts or to appear in pornography. Human trafficking is forced labor; prostitution is not.
Several years ago I represented a man who was questioned by local police as he left a hotel room were he got more than just a massage. The officer promised not to charge him if he was forthcoming and my client admitted to receiving a hand job in the hotel room. Later he was charged with solicitation. While the charges were pending he received a summons to testify before the grand jury into a sex trafficking investigation by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. I contacted the Assistant Attorney General and demanded full immunity before my client testified knowing full well that they would have enough other witnesses available who were not demanding immunity. As predicted, they proceeded without my client. The local charges were ultimately dismissed with some community service. This is what happens when the crimes of prostitution and sex trafficking collide: multiple law enforcement agencies tripping over each other to prove their cases.
I have represented owners of massage studios accused of sex trafficking after an employee offered an undercover officer sex for a fee. In every case officer came to the salon for a massage and claimed to have negotiated payment for a hand job before informing the employee that she was under arrest. A typical defense for the massage studio owner is that they didn’t know what their employee was doing for extra revenue and that claims of forced servitude were self-serving.
I represented an individual who was involved in running a high end prostitution service (because it was high end it was called an “escort service.”) As soon as the police moved in sex trafficking allegations were made to the bewilderment of the people running the business. There was no disputing that they were running a prostitution service, but the employees were not forced into the work.
The struggle in representing individuals charged with Human Trafficking is the hysteria that accompanies such charges. High bail is set; jurors are horrified by the charge itself and one must get them to see past the hysteria and recognize that credible evidence shows nothing more than prostitution. Forceful examination of the incentives for the workers to allege trafficking is always central to the case.
If you are being investigated or have been charged with human trafficking, please contact my office for a consultation. I have experience defending human trafficking charges in both state and federal court.