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Within the U.S. Crimes Code, there are a series of crimes designed to address the issue of human sex trafficking. 18 U.S.C. 2421, entitled “Transportation Generally”, makes it illegal to transport any person in interstate or international commerce for the purposes of prostitution or any other illegal sexual activity. 18 U.S.C. 2421a criminalizes the use of a “facility” (most often a computer system) in interstate or international commerce for the purposes of facilitating prostitution or in reckless disregard of possible sex trafficking. The next section, 18 U.S.C. 2422 defines two crimes: The first section prohibits enticing any individual to travel in interstate or international commerce for the purposes of prostitution or other illegal sexual activity. It is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The second offense involves using the mail or “any facility” in interstate commerce to encourage or entice anyone who has not attained the age of 18 to travel in interstate or international commerce for the purposes of prostitution or any illegal sexual activity. It carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Thus, under 18 U.S.C. 2422, it is illegal to encourage, entice, or coerce an adult to travel in interstate or international commerce. For a minor, however, the offense is much more serious carrying a sentence of up to life in prison. This stands in stark contrast to the laws of many states where the promotion of prostitution is viewed as a far less serious crime. In Pennsylvania, for example, 18 Pa.C.S. 5902 promotion of prostitution in most cases is a second degree misdemeanor with a maximum punishment to two years in prison. Sentences for aggravated forms of promotion of prostitution (for a minor as an example) are classified as third-degree felonies with a maximum punishment of seven years in prison.
The primary statute used to prosecute a wide range of activities related to the transportation of individuals (adults and minors) across state lines or international borders or traveling across state or international borders for the purpose of engaging in illegal sexual activity is 18 U.S.C. 2423. This statute criminalizes a couple of different types of activities and imposes serious penalties for those convicted of these crimes.
First, it is illegal to “knowingly transport. . . an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce. . . with intent that the individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.” The statute is broad and covers a wide range of conduct. One who purchases a plane, bus or train ticket that results in a minor crossing interstate borders for the purpose of engaging in voluntary sexual activity with another minor may violate this section. Remember, virtually any sexual activity by a minor is illegal. The statute does not require the activity to be commercial in nature or that the person charged with the offense benefit from the crime. Furthermore, the statute carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life.
It is also a felony punishable with a sentence of up to 30 years in prison for a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident to travel interstate or internationally for the purpose of hiring a prostitute or engage in sexual activity with a minor. Of course, prostitution is legal in many parts of the world. According to the U.S. Justice Department, however, it does not matter if prostitution is legal in the country where it occurs. U.S. citizens and permanent residents can nevertheless be prosecuted even if prostitution is legal in the country where the act occurred. It is also noteworthy that it is not the illegal sexual activity that is the fulcrum of the prosecution; it is the purpose of the travel and the travel that the law focuses upon. This results in the anomaly where one who travels overseas for purposes of a business trip but then decides to engage in sexual activity with an underage person commits no crime but one who travels overseas for the purposes of engaging in sexual activity with an underage person but then decides not to follow through with the act is nevertheless guilty even though no sexual activity occurred. It is the travel and the purpose of the travel that are important.
Next, it is illegal for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to engage in illicit sexual activity while in a foreign country. “Illicit sexual activity” is defined in the statute broadly to include sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18. Throughout the world, there are countries where prostitution is legal, and many of these cases are known as locations for “sexual tourism”. Even if prostitution is legal in these countries and the age of consent is less than 18 years of age, an American who travels to one of these countries and engages in sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 may be guilty of violating 18 U.S.C. 2423.
Most violations or suspected violations of 18 U.S.C. 2423 are discovered by the U.S. government, usually are a part of extensive investigation into organized crime groups. It must be remembered, however, that in many cases, it is organized crime groups that operate prostitution organization involving both adults and minors. It is not uncommon for these groups to photograph or videotape the act and then use it to extort the person who engaged in the unlawful sexual activity. This extortion can go on for years and result in financial ruin.
There is no easy way to escape this extortion, but there may be ways to alleviate the pain. It may be beneficial for the individual being blackmailed to approach the government through counsel. This is not a course of action that one should pursue without an attorney. Only an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can guide anyone through this most difficult of situations.
18 U.S.C. 2423 cover a wide range of conduct from the individual who engages in actions involving sophisticated and dangerous organized crime groups. Of course, not everyone charged with or suspected of violating 18 U.S.C. 2423 is guilty. There is no “one size fits all approach” to these cases, but the first step one should take is to retain an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer. Attempting to resolve a case without an attorney almost always results in disaster. Decisions concerning an appropriate course of action should be made with an attorney before a suspect talks to the government.
There are also a number of things a suspect should not do. First, the suspect should not destroy evidence. The suspect should also not attempt to contact the victim, anyone associated with the victim or the venue where the alleged act occurred. No benefit can come from talking to anyone other than an attorney (or perhaps a therapist or religious leader).
The process will be long, difficult, emotionally challenging, and expensive even if ultimately, no charges are filed. The suspect must prepare emotionally and financially for the most difficult period of his or her life.
We are uniquely qualified to handle these types of cases. Since these cases are often international in character, our experience in international law as well as in criminal law can make all the difference. We understand the corruption that frequently occurs in “sexual tourism” countries and how that can taint an entire investigation. We also know how to investigate in legally challenging environments. We have represented the individuals who made a mistake, the member of the organized crime cartel engaged in international human trafficking and the wrongfully accused individual.
Dennis Boyle conducted international human trafficking investigations as a Navy Judge Advocate in the late 1980s. These investigations included alleged human trafficking rings operating out of the Philippines, Thailand and Japan. Later, he was involved in the defense of one of the largest nationwide human trafficking rings in the U.S. He understands how these cases are put together, and he know how to defend them.
The sooner we are contacted, the more we can do to help someone suspected of or involved with a violation of 18 U.S.C. 2423. Call or email us anytime.