The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP

Combatting Human Trafficking Through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act


The Human Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress and it was signed by President Clinton on October 28, 2000. The primary purpose of the passing the Act was to combat trafficking in persons, especially in the sex trade and slavery. The Act also establishes human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons is required to publish a Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report each year. This TIP report describes and ranks the efforts of countries to combat human trafficking.

The Act also established the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, which assists in the implementation of the TVPA. The Task Force is chaired by the Secretary of State to carry out and measure and evaluate the progress of the United States and other countries in the areas of trafficking prevention, assistance to victims of trafficking, and prosecution and enforcement against traffickers. The TVPA has been reauthorized through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2003, 2005, 2008, 2013, and 2017.

  1. Important Provisions from the Reauthorization Act of 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013

In 2003, Congress re-authorized the TVPA in 2003, allowing for materials to be circulated, which alert travelers that sex tourism is illegal. This re-authorization also allowed trafficked victims to sue their traffickers in federal district court and required the Attorney General to report annually on anti-trafficking laws.

With the reauthorization Act of 2005, as the awareness about the issue of human trafficking began to gain traction, the U.S. began to recognize that human trafficking impacts not just foreign national victims, but also U.S. citizens. The added measures protect U.S. citizen survivors by assisting state and local law enforcement efforts in combating human trafficking. It also helps by creating comprehensive service and rehabilitative facilities for trafficking victims.

Three years later, in December 2008, Congress re-authorized the TVPA and extended and modified certain programs from the core of the Department of Justice’s efforts to prevent and prosecute human trafficking and protect the victims of forced labor and modern slavery. It established new crimes that impose penalties on those who obstruct or attempt to obstruct prosecutors' investigations. This not only added new crimes but it also changed the standard of proof for the crime of sex trafficking, to require that the government only prove that the defendant acted in “reckless disregard of the fact that such means would be used.

Other important provisions of this new TVPA is the elimination from sex trafficking charges, the requirement that the defendant knew that the person engage in commercial sex was a minor and that the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the minor. It also increased the penalty for conspiring to commit trafficking.

┬áin February 2013, Congress reauthorized the TVPA, passed as an amendment of the Violence Against Women Act. This provided invaluable resources supporting holistic services for survivors, and enabling law enforcement to investigate cases, in order to hold perpetrators accountable. This new act helps prevent U.S. foreign aid from going to countries that use child soldiers, penalizes the confiscation of identity documents, and it gives authorization to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office to form local partnerships in focus countries to combat trafficking through Child Protection Compacts.

  1. Human Trafficking Lawsuits

One of the provisions from the 2008 amendment to the TVPA, allows survivors to bring civil claims against businesses that “knowingly benefit from their participation in what they knew or should have known was a sex trafficking venture.” According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline website, there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of them being from the United States. Human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year industry, and sexual exploitation accounts for $99 billion a year in profit. Since 2003, plaintiffs have filed 299 cases under the federal civil trafficking provisions of the TVPA.

As of October 2018, more than 23% of cases are ongoing. Slightly more than half of the cases have resulted in judgments for plaintiffs or public settlements, 13% have been voluntarily dismissed and approximately 5% have been closed or dismissed without prejudice. Fewer than 8% of the cases have ended with involuntary dismissal or judgments for defendants.