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Human Trafficking Legislation-Part 1

Updated on February 19, 2013

Why Human Trafficking Legislation is Lacking

Through interviews of professionals involved in the combating of human trafficking as well as content analysis, this report investigates what the law states about the crime of trafficking. States have legislation that governs the issue, the United States has a federal law, foreign countries have their own individual laws, and there is even an international protocol for human trafficking established by the United Nations. This report will explore and touch on the provisions of each type of law with the exception of foreign country law.

The point of this article is to explore the provisions and resources of the sections of law which govern human trafficking. The issue is one which is assumed to be neglected by law and government therefore leaving non-governmental agencies in a place of desperate need for help. If agencies working against trafficking know what the law provides, perhaps they could utilize resources. On the other hand, if they know the lack of provisions, then they can fight for change in this area.

The issues that will be discussed will be broken down into three main themes.First to be discussed will be the fight against human trafficking in the state of Tennessee and what the state laws provide concerning the issue. Second to be discussed will be the U.S. federal law concerning human trafficking which addresses the issue on a national level as well as designates provisions for several other countries. It will be discussed how these countries are chosen as well as what these provisions are. Lastly to be discussed will be the international protocol for human trafficking as established by the United Nations. The provisions of these laws will be weighed in light of the problem to see if they are effective and adequate and if any amendments should be made or further legislation passed.

This article will cover the first theme of Tennessee legislation and subsequent articles will cover the other two themes.

When the first U.S. federal law, Trafficking Victims Protection Act, for human trafficking was passed in the year 2000, it appropriated a budget for the following years 2001 and 2002. The budget for 2002 was $63 million dollars, but the law failed to provide a minimum amount to be delegated to fight trafficking for the years thereafter. Considering the trafficking industry currently victimizes 158,000,000 children and brings in $40 billion, the numbers of the federal budget for 2002 fall significantly short. The budget for fiscal year 2010 increased to approximately $1.4 million (almost $84 million to international programs and the rest allocated to domestic programs), but given the previous considerations, it is a figure that continues to fall short in order to address the vastness of the problem. Furthermore, when the U.S. federal law Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA) was passed in 2000, ninety countries were placed on a Trafficking in Persons list with seventy-two of these countries not in full compliance with the minimum standards to combat trafficking as spelled out in the TVPA. This is only a slither of the evidence that proves the importance of this issue.

The reason this is significant is because at the very least 158,000,000 (and counting) lives are in the balance. Also, trafficking brings criminals and their victims back and forth across country borders infringing on anti-terrorism efforts, foreign investment, and other developmental goals threatening the lives of countries worldwide, including the United States. As far as contributing to the AIDS/HIV epidemic, the U.S. Department of state reports that sex trafficking is an engine for this global epidemic. A 2007 study conducted by Journal of the American Medical Association showed that trafficked women and children were extremely vulnerable to the violent transmission of HIV. This article can provide awareness to non-governmental agencies and governmental agencies as to what changes need to be made to the law in order to address the issue of human trafficking in a more effective way.

Tennesseee Human Trafficking Legislation

In the year 2001 a special operation was conducted by the current Nashville, TN mayor, Karl Dean. The goal of the operation was to shut down local brothels in Nashville. Many of the operation’s efforts were aimed at those brothels particularly located on 8th and 12th avenue. These “businesses” were disguised as massage parlors, dance clubs, and strip clubs. Interestingly enough, it was found that a majority of the prostitutes were minors and foreigners who had been victims of human trafficking. However, at the time, there was no law on Tennessee books which addressed the issue of trafficking. Instead, the traffickers were prosecuted under a nuisance law which was originally passed to shut down moon shining businesses during the prohibition period. It is Tennessee Code Annotated 29-3-101 which declares it illegal for someone to run a “house of ill-repute.” The owners of the brothels, though, received no sentence concerning the trafficking of human beings.

It was not until the year 2007 Tennessee passed a law to confront the specific issue of human trafficking. Tennessee Human Trafficking Act of 2007 amended Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 39-13 creating new criminal offenses of sexual servitude, involuntary servitude, trafficking persons for forced labor or services, and trafficking for sexual servitude. In 2008,House Bill No. 71 was passed in order to clarify the definitions of these crimes.

In the following chart, the first and second columns are the types of criminal offenses under the Tennessee Human Trafficking Act of 2007 and the felony classification for each offense. In the third column is the sentence range for each offense. Although sexual servitude was stated as an offense, its felony classification and sentence range was omitted, but it can be logically assumed that it holds a similar classification and sentence range to the other offenses listed.

Crimes, Felony Types, and Sentences under Tennessee Human Trafficking Act of 2007

Felony Type
Sentence (in years)
Sexual servitude
Involuntary Labor Servitude
Class B/Class C
Trafficking Persons for Forced Labor or Service
Class C
Trafficking for Sexual Servitude
Class B

While these sentences have quite a vast range, all of the experts I interviewed agreed that traffickers did not receive harsh enough sentences. Consider a Tennessee case where a father and son were charged with trafficking for sexual servitude for victimizing four young women. Although this is a Class B Felony, the father and son each received sentences of three and four years. Furthermore, it is thought by professionals that these sentences do nothing to deter involvement in criminal activity. It is estimated that a trafficker who traffics only one girl for sexual servitude earns a minimum annual amount of $54,750. Most traffickers traffic several girls at one time. Another recent court case displayed ignorance of the law when the judge said of the Tennessee Human Trafficking Act of 2007, “This is the first time I have seen this law. I don’t even know how this is being interpreted.”

While some states still do not have laws criminalizing human trafficking, Tennessee still has a long way to go. Criminalizing human trafficking is a far as Tennessee state law reaches. It does not have legislation imperative to totally eradicate the crime. A state mandated task force, research commission, law enforcement training, and victim protection are all areas which Tennessee state law lacks. A House Bill No. 1302 proposed further amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated calling for stricter definitions of trafficking, but was denied on the grounds that trafficking was not such a prevalent crime that the law needed amending.

What about your state? Well, with very few exceptions, most other states are in the same boat as Tennessee; just barely in the developing stages of effective legislation. There are even some states, such as Wyoming that do not have any human trafficking legislation. Further conclusions are that the United States needs to amend its laws on the federal and state level to where they are consistent with one another. Where there are inconsistencies between laws, it provides criminals with loopholes. Also, confusion prevails in the judicial system amongst attorneys and judges as to how to apply the law. If uncertainty rests in this area, prosecution will continue to remain elusive. Where there are not state laws, legislation needs to be passed immediately. Each state needs to lawfully mandate a budget which funds public awareness campaigns, law enforcement and judicial training, and victim restoration of both foreign and domestic victims.

To see what legislative provisions your state has, please visit and click on your state.

Do you believe your state has adequate human trafficking legislation?

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