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Human Trafficking, Commercial Sexual Exploitation, and Systems of Prostitution: Primary Sources

United States: Federal Law

United States laws and helpful supplementary material are available in print at the VUSL library or online on databases such as Westlaw, Lexis, and BloombergLaw.  Free electronic access to federal laws is available on Cornell Law’s Legal Information Institute website and on various government websites.

The Constitution of the United States of America:   

Thirteenth Amendment prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude

The United States Criminal Code (Second Floor: KF62 .A2 2012):

18 U.S.C. § 1589: Forced labor

18 U.S.C. § 1590: Trafficking with respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor

18 U.S.C. § 1591: Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion

18 U.S.C. § 1592: unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of trafficking, peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor

18 U.S.C. § 1597: unlawful conduct with respect to immigration documents

18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 – 1968: Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act

Selected Federal Laws:

       Human Trafficking: Key Federal Criminal Statutes from the Congressional Research Service

Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TPVA) of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-386 (codified in scattered sections of 22 U.S.C. and 18 U.S.C., including 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589 – 1592 referenced below).  One the TPVA’s self-proclaimed purposes is “[t]o combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude.”  The statute grants protections to victims of trafficking and established the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons within the United States Department of State.  The TPVA was reauthorized in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013.

§ 7101: purpose and findings

§ 7102: definitions

§ 7103: Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking

§ 7103(a): creating, building, and strengthening partnerships against significant trafficking in persons

§ 7104: prevention of trafficking

§ 7104(a): compliance plan and certification requirement

§ 7104(b): monitoring and investigation of trafficking in persons

§ 7104(c): notification to inspectors general and cooperation with government

§ 7104(d): rules of construction; effective date

§ 7104(e): preventing future trafficking in the United States through receipt of complaints abroad

§ 7105: Protection and assistance for victims of trafficking

§ 7105(a): increasing effectiveness of anti-trafficking programs

§ 7105(b): improving domestic victim screening procedures

§ 7106: minimum standards for elimination of trafficking

§ 7107: actions against governments failing to meet minimum standards

§ 7108: actions against significant traffickers in persons

§ 7109: strengthening prosecution and punishment of traffickers

§ 7109(a): research on domestic and international trafficking in persons

§ 7109(b): Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons

§ 7110: authorizations of appropriations

§ 7111: report by Secretary of State

§ 7113: accountability

§ 7114: efforts to end modern slavery

Selected TPVA Reauthorization Acts:

 2003 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, Pub. L. No. 108-193 (codified in 18 U.S.C. § 1595 and 22 U.S.C. § 7109a). 

2005 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, Pub. L. No. 109-164 (codified in scattered sections of 18 U.S.C., 22 U.S.C., and 42 U.S.C.). \

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015:

Strengthens services for victims via changes in criminal liability of buyers of commercial sex from victims of trafficking.

Requires creation of domestic trafficking fund to support victim assistance programs

Amended Runaway and Homeless Youth Act by declaring youth who are victims of trafficking are eligible for services under the RHYA

Amended the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act by adding trafficking as a form of child abuse

Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014:

  • States must develop policies to identify, document, screen, and determine appropriate services for children under the child welfare agency’s care and supervision, who are victims of, or at risk of, sex trafficking.
  • State welfare agencies must immediately report children in their care identified as sex trafficking victims to law enforcement
  • State welfare agencies must report the numbers of children in their care identified as sex trafficking victims to HHS.
  • Requires child welfare agencies to develop and implement protocols to locate children who runaway or are missing from foster care.


Amends section 230 of the CDA and allows criminal/civil actions against a website if its conduct violates federal sex trafficking laws

Amends 18 U.S.C. § 1591 to add a definition of “participation in a venture,” as knowingly, assisting, facilitating, or supporting sex trafficking

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101—1537.  The INA provides protections to immigrant victims of crime, including trafficking victims.

Selected INA Laws:

The U Visa, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(U).  This statute outlines the requirements to obtain a U Visa, which is a nonimmigrant visa that enables victims of certain crimes who assist law enforcement in the prosecution of those crimes to obtain legal status and work eligibility for four years.  The U Visa strengthens the ability of law enforcement to prosecute crimes and provides protections to immigrant victims, who are often targeted as particularly vulnerable to crime.

The T Visa, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T).  This statute outlines the requirements to obtain a T Visa, which provides immigration protections to victims of human trafficking who are physically present in the United States as a result of trafficking.  Like the U Visa, the T Visa has the dual purposes of helping law enforcement and immigrant victims of crime.

Mann Act of 1910, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421 – 2424.  Criminalizes the transportation of an individual in interstate or foreign commerce for prostitution purposes.

Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act, Pub. L. No. 108-21 (codified in scattered sections of 42 U.S.C. and 18 U.S.C.).  Enacted to prevent child abduction and sex tourism.

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 – 1968.

Code of Federal Regulations:

8 C.F.R. § 214.1 – 214.15

The Federal Register:

The Federal Register defines itself as “the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents.”

United States: Federal Case Law

Federal Court information is accessible from many sources.  PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, provides electronic access to federal docket and case information for a fee.  Federal court decisions are also cataloged in various reporters according to court level.  Most cases are easily accessible on the internet and on Westlaw, Lexis, and BloombergLaw.  Locate cases involving human trafficking law by using search terms or accessing a digest like West’s Key Number System. 

The United States Courts:

Supreme Court of the United States

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

United States District Courts in the Region:

Eastern District of Pennsylvania

District of New Jersey

District of Delaware

Selected Court Reporters and Digests:

United States Reports (Second Floor: Compact Shelving, KF101 .A3)

West’s Supreme Court Reporter (Second Floor: Compact Shelving, KF101 .S3)

West’s Federal Reporter (Second Floor: Compact Shelving, KF105 .F3)

West’s Federal Appendix (Second Floor: KF105 .F4)

West’s Federal Supplement (Second Floor: Compact Shelving, KF120 .F4)  

West’s Federal Practice Digest (Second Floor: KF127 .W47 2013)

Selected West Key Number System Topics:

164T:  Extortion

356:  Slaves

321:  Rape

321E:  Kidnapping


Suggested Index/Database Search Terms:


Bonded Labor


Crime / Criminal

Debt Bondage

Forced Labor


Human Rights

Human Trafficking





United States: State Law

The Constitution of Pennsylvania

Purdon's Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated (Reserve, Third Floor: KFP30 1930 .A44)

Selected Pennsylvania Statutes:

National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 1491—1499.  This 2012 statute mandates the posting of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline in establishments in the state where trafficking victims are likely to visit such as restaurants, bars, adult entertainment locations, hotels, and transportation centers.

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 2701 – 2717.  Assault.

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 2901 – 2910.  Kidnapping.

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 3001 – 3004.  Trafficking of Persons.

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 3101 – 3144.  Sexual Offenses.

Pennsylvania Code

Pennsylvania Crimes Code, Chapter 30: Pennsylvania's Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Law

18 Pa.C.S. § 3001: human trafficking

18 Pa.C.S. § 3011: trafficking in individuals

18 Pa.C.S. § 3012: involuntary servitude

18 Pa.C.S. § 3019: victim protection during prosecution

Identifying information may be free from public disclosure

Possible affirmative defense against prostitution charges

First offenders may receive priority for diversion programs

Individuals convicted of certain trafficking offenses may file a motion to vacate convictions

18 Pa.C.S. § 3051: civil causes of action

Civil cause of action against perpetrator

Awards for damages

Attorney fees for prevailing party

42 Pa.C.S. § 5945.3: applies same sexual assault counselor confidential privilege communication to sexual assault counselors serving as human trafficking counselors

The Pennsylvania Bulletin, the Federal Register’s counterpart, is a weekly publication noting changes to state court rules, executive orders, and agency regulations and notices.

Select Compilations of State Laws:

Polaris Project notes that its 2013 State Ratings on Human Trafficking Laws rates “all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on 10 categories of laws that are critical to a basic legal framework that combats human trafficking, punishes traffickers and supports survivors.”  Pennsylvania falls within tier 2 of 4, signaling room for improvement.  Nearby New Jersey is one of two states to achieve a perfect score.

The Human Trafficking Laws in the States Report, compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures in February 2014, lists and summarizes state laws relating to human trafficking.


United States: State Case Law

State court opinions can be harder to locate than opinions from federal court cases.  Many Pennsylvania state court opinions are cataloged in court reporters and are available on Westlaw, Lexis, and BloombergLaw.  Opinions may also be available on the relevant court’s website.

Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania

Selected Court Reporters and Digests:

West’s Atlantic Reporter (Second Floor, KF135 .A7)

Pennsylvania State Reports (Third Floor, KFP45 .A2)

West’s Atlantic Digest (Second Floor, KF135 .A71)

West’s Pennsylvania Digest (Third Floor, KFP57 .W47 1983)

Foreign & International Law

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is an international, multilateral treaty aimed at fighting crimes that cross borders.  States that ratify the Convention, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 15, 2000, pledge to take measures to combat transnational organized crime and uphold the Convention’s three Protocols.

Selected Protocols:

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 and entering into force on December 25, 2003, is the first international instrument to adopt a legally binding definition of “trafficking in persons.”  The Protocol indicates it serves to “facilitate convergence in national approaches with regard to the establishment of domestic criminal offences that would support efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases.”

Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, largely defines human rights law.  It outlines fundamental human rights including equality, freedom of movement, and prohibitions against slavery and torture.

Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  This treaty established the European Court of Human Rights, which affords a forum to an individual of a Counsel of Europe member state alleging a violation of their human rights.

Select Compilations of International Laws:

Trafficking Laws from Various Countries, The Protection Project

Child Trafficking Digital Library

Human Rights Model Laws and Action Plans, The Protection Project


Human Trafficking Case Law Databases

An easy way to locate state, federal, and international cases involving human trafficking is by searching a human trafficking case law database.  These databases often allow you to search for cases by jurisdiction:

University of Michigan Law School’s Human Trafficking Database of Cases.  This excellent database catalogues human trafficking cases to aid researches and law enforcement.

Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Department of Justice agency websites often publish news updates on recent cases and investigations.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s International Human Trafficking Case Law Database

In 2009, the International Labour Office’s Special Action Programme to Combat Forced Labor published Forced Labor and Human Trafficking:  Casebook of Court Decisions, a training manual for judges, prosecutors, and legal practitioners.  The 120 page casebook is downloadable at the ILO website link above, and examines forced labor and trafficking cases in international courts, region courts, South Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

World Legal Information Institute maintains a searchable database of decisions, which the organization claims captures “over 270 databases from 48 jurisdictions in 20 countries.”