06/24/2010 10:57 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Child Sex Traffickers Deserve Stiff TVPA Penalties in Every U.S. Court

After numerous conversations with law enforcement officials I realized that most law enforcement officials at every level of government and across every state, city and county are under the false assumption that some form of movement is required for a predator to be guilty of child sex trafficking. A child trafficker does not have to move across a state or border or even beyond his or her home to be accused of child sex trafficking.

A minor (under the age of 18), is considered a victim of human sex trafficking regardless of the location of that non-consensual exploitation, and therefore "any person who through the use of force, fraud or coercion for purposes of sex or labor exploits the child" can be charged under The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), federal laws enacted in 2000.

Under the TVPA guidelines "a person may be a trafficking victim regardless of whether they once consented, participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked, were transported into the exploitative situation, or were simply born into a state of servitude". At the heart of this phenomenon are the myriad varieties of enslavement - not the activities involved in international transportation. According to TVPA, there are five forms of human trafficking including forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage among migrant workers, and involuntary domestic servitude.

In the latest 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), recently published by the State Department, the Report defines child trafficking for the purposes of sex or labor as "any act that through force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of sex or labor, exploits the child". During my interview with Ambassador Lou de Baca, Director of Trafficking in Persons at the State Department, he said, "the TIP Report grew out of The Palermo Protocol". The Palermo Protocol was the first international instrument used to criminalize all acts of trafficking - including forced labor, slavery, and slavery-like practices. The Palermo Protocol also established a comprehensive Federal law guideline to protect victims of trafficking and prosecute their traffickers.

In 2000, soon after The Palermo Protocol was created TVPA- Public Law 106-386 was enacted in order to prosecute and prevent human trafficking in the United States. "Over the past 15 years, 'trafficking in persons' or 'human trafficking' has become umbrella terms for unlawful activities when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service for sex or labor", confirmed de Baca. The TVPA describes this 'compelled service' using a number of different terms: involuntary servitude, slavery, debt bondage, and forced labor.

Four categories of criminal activities do not fall under human trafficking they include: Illegal adoption, trade in human organs, child pornography and prostitution. It is important for law enforcement officials to understand the legal distinction between prostitution and child sex trafficking when adjudicating a case at county, city or state court.

"Prostitution" as defined by the State Department's 2010 TIP Report and TVPA is an act committed by willing adults (over the age of 18), regardless of whether it is legalized, decriminalized, or criminalized. Everything short of this- focus on the operative words "willing adults over the age of 18"- can be uniformly prosecuted across every county, city and state court under the child sex trafficking TVPA guidelines. In doing so, the offender can be charged under a presumptive system using the advisory guideline penalties.

An important distinction between prostitution and sex trafficking was made in the 2008 TVPA. In defining the legal language, human sex trafficking under U.S. law is not construed to treat prostitution as a valid form of employment. TIP Reports also evaluate the efforts of countries with legalized prostitution to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts as part of its assessment of the countries' serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of sex trafficking.

Prevention, protection and prosecution are the keystone of all civilized communities. Moving forward and in order to successfully combat child sex trafficking and safeguard our communities, law enforcement officials must implement all three goals unanimously. Prosecuting traffickers under stiff TVPA federal guidelines will be an excellent beginning.

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