Child trafficking represents the worst of what people are capable of doing to our most vulnerable populations. It’s one of the world’s largest underground industries and thrives in communities across the U.S.
This form of modern-day slavery has victimized tens of millions of people around the world. In the U.S., approximately 300,000 children are victimized by child traffickers every year.
The child trafficking industry is universally reviled, and there is little argument that we should make finding and punishing traffickers a top priority. But what about the victims and their legal options after being thrown into the child trafficking trade?
Unfortunately, our criminal system has been unable to deliver the justice that victims should be able to expect. It’s far too often the case that perpetrators of child trafficking, particularly those that aid and facilitate trafficking, are given penalties and fines that don’t match their crimes.
However, there are ways for child trafficking victims to get justice. Civil lawsuits offer victims the chance to pursue financial compensation and, in some cases, the opportunity to hold their abusers accountable in person, if they wish to do so.
How Civil Lawsuits Can Help Child Trafficking Victims
No amount of criminal prosecution or civil litigation can heal the wounds caused by child trafficking. Children who are subjected to sexual exploitation and forced labor are confronted with many challenges throughout their lives, including PTSD, depression, anxiety, difficulties forming close bonds with others, drug addiction, sexually transmitted diseases and debilitating physical injuries.
What civil litigation does offer is the chance for a victim to pursue financial compensation that, at the very least, will give them the resources to help overcome some of these obstacles and ensure that they won’t be destitute financially.
There are many state and federal laws that offer victims the opportunity to hold traffickers accountable for damages resulting from the abuse and exploitation inherent in these practices. Victims can seek compensation for medical expenses, lost income, therapy and future wages lost due to physical or psychological impairment.
Juries might also award victims compensation in the form of punitive damages that are intended to punish the traffickers and deter future crimes. For those victims that want to confront their traffickers, this system offers them the chance to do so in court. For those that wish to remain anonymous, there are also laws that allow them the opportunity to file a lawsuit using a pseudonym.
A Strengthening of Laws Means Greater Protection for Child Trafficking Victims
While the human trafficking industry continues to claim victims around the world, there have been many steps taken to increase enforcement and strengthen existing laws in the U.S. In 2016, the inaugural U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking convened to refine our anti-trafficking policies. The Council included 11 human trafficking survivors to ensure that its recommendations would reflect the actual struggles victims have encountered.
The “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” was signed into law in April 2018. The bill gives federal and state prosecutors more authority to pursue websites hosting sex-trafficking ads and allows sex trafficking victims to file lawsuits against those sites.
With stronger laws and increased enforcement, there is reason to be optimistic about an issue as abhorrent as child trafficking. We are taking steps to hold traffickers accountable and offer victims pathways to justice.
There are also ways that we can all help to combat child trafficking. If you know that someone is in immediate danger, call 911. To report potential cases of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888. To report cases of missing children or child pornography, you can contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children through their Cybertipline or by calling 1-800-843-5678.
We should also encourage victims of child trafficking to
pursue civil litigation if they want to take further steps to get justice for
the crimes committed against them. Lawsuits against child trafficking
perpetrators won’t end this practice, but they will give victims a chance to
have their voices heard.