Backpage.com has been a notorious source for serious sex crimes, including the prostitution of minors and sex trafficking across state borders. The site was shut down in April, but many of the criminal cases involving Backpage remain active, including the one involving three Delaware men.
The three men were arrested after law enforcement officials rescued two minors who had been involved in the prostitution ring. They were recently convicted on federal charges of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking through the use of force, fraud, and coercion. Their crimes occurred over a for-year period across Delaware and Pennsylvania in what amounted to a prostitution enterprise.
Awaiting sentencing, the men face decades, even life behind bars.
How Exactly Is Sex Trafficking Defined?
The charges against these three men serious, raising the question: what exactly did they do that was against the law?
Federal law defines human trafficking as acts that “hold a person in a condition of slavery, that is, a condition of compulsory service or labor against his/her will.” (This crime is also known as “involuntary servitude/slavery or forced labor.”
Sex trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”
The three men were convicted of holding both minors and adults against their will, selling them as prostitutes online. That constitutes sex trafficking of minors.
In the case, prosecutors provided evidence that the men used force, fraud, or coercion to commit these crimes. What does that mean?
There are a variety of actions that could qualify, including:
- Physical force (assault, sexual assault, etc.)
- Threats of harm or physical force
- False promises of work, wages, or housing
- Debt bondage
- Emotional or psychological Manipulation
Using force, fraud, or coercion makes their charges (and sentencing) much more severe, enhancing the penalty exposure because minors were involved.
Federal Sex Trafficking Penalties
If the sex trafficking acts were limited to Delaware, the case might have remained in Delaware court, but since the criminal enterprise crossed state lines, it was handed off to federal court where investigation and prosecution resources are greater.
There are differences in the way that states and the federal government handle sex crimes. One of the biggest differences involves sentencing.
If someone is convicted of federal sex trafficking, they could face up to 20 years behind bars or fines for a single count of trafficking.
The sentence increases dramatically if the following events occur in the course of the trafficking:
- Death of any victim
- Kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap
- Aggravated sexual abuse
- Attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill
These conditions can increase sentencing to any term of imprisonment, including life in prison.
As mentioned above, sentencing will also increase if there is a minor involved. If the victim is between the ages of 14-18, the defendant may face up to 40 years behind bars. If the victim is under the age of 14, the defendant may face any term, including life in prison.
These are obviously very serious consequences, but it’s important to remember that a charge is not a conviction. Working with a skilled Texas federal criminal lawyer is your best chance at reducing the penalties you face, and in some cases they may even be able to get your charges dropped or dismissed. The first step, however, is reaching out.