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Federal Law on Trafficking

18 U.S.C § 1591- Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion

Child Sex Trafficking is prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 1591. This statute makes it a federal offense to knowingly recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain a minor (defined as someone under 18 years of age) knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the victim is a minor and would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act. “Commercial sex act” is defined very broadly to include “any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.” In other words, it is illegal both to offer and to obtain a child, and cause that child to engage in any kind of sexual activity in exchange for anything of value, whether it be money, goods, personal benefit, in-kind favors, or some other kind of benefit. Section 1591 also makes it a crime for individuals to participate in a business venture that obtains minors and causes them to engage in commercial sex acts.

Section 1591 is called “Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion.” Most people think of “trafficking” as involving movement across state or international borders. However, Section 1591 does not require proof that either the defendant or victim crossed state or international lines.

When the victim is a minor, Section 1591 does not require proof that the defendant used force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion, or any combination of those means, to cause the minor to engage in a commercial sex act.

If the victim was under the age of 14 or if force, fraud, or coercion were used, the penalty is not less than 15 years in prison up to life. If the victim was aged 14-17, the penalty shall not be less than 10 years in prison up to life. Anyone who obstructs or attempts to obstruct the enforcement of this statute faces as many as 20 years imprisonment. Defendants who are convicted under this statute are also required to pay restitution to their victims for any losses they caused.

Updated August 11, 2023