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Human trafficking is a pandemic causing inhumane conditions across the globe.[1] The words “human trafficking” conjure up images of a foreign land where young women are bought and sold as sex slaves. The reality hits far closer to home. The Twin Cities is one of the top human trafficking locations in the United States.[2] In Minnesota alone, hundreds of vulnerable victims are held against their will every day. Sometimes working in illegal industries, such as prostitution or the drug trade. The eradication of trafficking is the ultimate goal. But until that dream comes true we must work to ensure the humans who are trafficked do not get doubly punished by their traffickers and by the system that would prosecute them for their involuntary acts.

Human trafficking can occur in many mediums, all of which are illegal.[3] Individuals may be trafficked to work in agriculture, hotels, or a variety of other businesses. Individuals may also be trafficked as sex workers. Trafficked individuals who have been brought to the United States illegally or have had their papers destroyed may find it difficult to contact authorities as they fear the consequences. Likewise, an individual who has been sex trafficked may fear prosecution for prostitution and instead choose to remain silent. Since the beginning of the century, a global focus on human trafficking has slowly brought hope to victims.

In Minnesota, the legislation has recently been enacting certain protections benefitting trafficked individuals. Minnesota has a law mandating that an individual cannot be prosecuted for prostitution if that person is younger than eighteen years old.[4] It is part of a Safe Harbor law aimed at helping children who are sex trafficking victims. Another provision allows those who have been trafficked to receive compensation for the time they were held. A trafficked individual can bring a civil suit against his or her traffickers to recover damages, including punitive damages, and the costs of trial.[5]

The federal government has also attempted to aid victims of human trafficking.[6] Victims can receive services aimed at both the physical and mental needs of trafficked individuals.[7] Additionally, a hotline is being established as a way for individuals in need to reach those services. Understanding what aid the federal government offers is important as immigration issues fall under federal law.

The legislative actions at the state and federal level are important to help trafficking victims. However, even more needs to be done. Victims of trafficking can still be prosecuted, making it harder for victims to come forward who are being trafficked in illegal industries. It is all of our responsibilities to afford all humans the chance to live with dignity. Slavery is not just an ugly vestige of the past; it is a modern disease requiring progressive solutions. Legislation at the federal and state level needs to address the prosecution of trafficked individuals more fully. Victims should not be treated the same as their persecutors.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking know they are many channels willing to help. Furthermore, if a victim of human trafficking is being prosecuted, it is important that his or her story is shared and rights protected. Contact a lawyer at the Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC at 651-800-4842 or email ambroselegal@icloud.com for a free consultation.

Attorney Nathan Downing obtained his law degree from the University of Denver and was a member of the Law Review. Nathan is a native Minnesotan and returned home to continue his legal career in criminal and constitutional law. St. Paul Criminal Defense Lawyer; Solicitation MN; and Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney.

[1] An estimated 20.9 million people are trafficked worldwide. See the Polaris Project.

[2] The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, citing the Federal Bureau of Investigation. See here.

[3] This post is not focusing on individuals charged with trafficking, rather it is concerned with individuals who are victims of human trafficking that may face, or fear they will face, criminal prosecution. See Minn. Stat. §§ 609.281-324 (2015) for Minnesota laws against trafficking.

[4] Minn. Stat. § 260C.007 (2015).

[5] Minn. Stat. § 609.284 Subd. 2 (2015).

[6] 22 U.S.C. § 7105 (2015).

[7] There are also services aimed at helping individuals obtain residency in the United States. This can help victims who are not United States residents come forward to report their traffickers without the fear of deportation.

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