How is Human Trafficking Legally Defined in Maine?
What exactly is human trafficking? Obvious examples, as seen on television and in the movies, involve containers full of enslaved, starving women or a dingy basement full of shackled women and men but in reality there are more subtle forms of human trafficking involving the use of coercion, force, and fraud to force people into occupations and acts against their will.
Maine does not have a single unified statute to define human trafficking but rather relies on certain federal statutes and Maine prostitution laws. The federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines human trafficking as recruiting, harboring, transporting, or obtaining a person for labor or commercial sex acts through force, fraud or coercion. Anyone who forces another to work or perform sex acts against their will may be charged with human trafficking.
The Confusion with Human Smuggling
One common misconception is equating human trafficking with the crime of human smuggling. Human smuggling involves unlawfully assisting another person to cross an international border without complying with immigration requirements. While human trafficking may involve human smuggling as well, human smuggling is complete once the transportation of the illegal individual has been accomplished. Trafficking, on the other hand, does not require travel across a border, although such conduct is often part of a human trafficking charge.
Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking
There are two primary types of human trafficking: sex trafficking which involves forcing people into prostitution or worse and labor trafficking which involves compelling people to work and holding them against their will often without pay or for paltry wages.
Although Maine Sex Trafficking Law relies on the TVPA for broad definitions of human trafficking, we do have some very clear-cut definitions of sex trafficking in our state statutes. What may surprise you is that normal sex trafficking, as opposed to aggravated sex trafficking, can apply to a wide variety of situations that most people do not consider human trafficking. For example, under Maine law a person can be convicted of sex trafficking, a Class C Felony, for any act that constitutes promoting prostitution. While prostitution itself is a separate charge, promoting prostitution has a broad definition and includes:
- Causing, aiding or arranging for someone else to engage in prostitution (not as a customer)
- Soliciting customers for prostitution in which the prostitute is not paid directly
- Procuring prostitutes
- Leasing a location for prostitution
- Control in any way over a prostitution location
- Transportation of someone for prostitution purposes
- Recruiting people to become or act as prostitutes
This charge does not require any form of compulsion or force. Simply being involved illegally promoting prostitution is enough to warrant prosecution.
Aggravated Sex Trafficking
Aggravated sex trafficking, on the other hand, is applicable to instances of coerced sexual activity. The element that distinguishes aggravated trafficking from simple sex trafficking is whether or not the victims were forced into sex acts or are willing participants who are paid for their involvement. In addition, aggravated sex trafficking, a Class B Felony, may be charged when a victim is under the age 18.
Coercion may take many forms. Providing unlawful drugs to victims to entice them into prostitution implicates aggravated sex trafficking as does withholding such substances from victims who are addicts. So too do false promises of payment for services, withholding payment or creating inflated debt for providing victims with a location to perform their unlawful services. Other forms of coercive conduct that may support a charge of aggravated sex trafficking include actual or threats of violence or physical restraint, threatening to report the victims to the police or to immigration authorities in the case of victims who are in the country illegally.
Human Trafficking is a Very Serious Offense
If you have been charged with a human trafficking offense, it is critical to obtain legal counsel immediately. The potential punishment for a Class C felony is five years in prison and a five thousand dollar fine and a Class B felony carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a fine of twenty thousand dollars. For more information about human trafficking laws in Maine or to speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer, contact us today!