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child sex trafficking

Child sex trafficking is a criminal offense under federal law. See 18 U.S.C. §1591. This statute makes it a federal crime to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain a minor (a person under 18 years of age) with knowledge or reckless disregard of the fact that the victim is a minor and will be or is being required to engage in a commercial sex act. The law also makes it a crime to conspire or attempt to commit this criminal offense.

A commercial sex act is broadly defined to include any sex act for which anything of value is given to or received by any person. In other words, it is illegal both to offer and to obtain a child and cause that child to engage in any kind of sexual activity in exchange for anything of value—whether money, goods, personal benefit, in-kind favors, or some other kind of benefit. This federal child sex trafficking statute also makes it a crime for individuals to participate in a business venture that obtains minors and causes them to engage in commercial sex acts.

The federal child sex trafficking statute is titled Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion. See 18 U.S.C. §1591. But this law does not require a federal prosecutor to prove that the defendant or the victim crossed state or international lines. And if the victim is a minor (under 18 years of age) the prosecution is not required to prove that the defendant used force, threats of force, fraud, coercion, or any combination of those means to cause the minor to engage in a commercial sex act.

This child sex trafficking law applies equally to American children (U.S. citizens or residents) who are prostituted within the United States and foreign nationals (persons who are not U.S. citizens or residents) who are brought into the United States and then engaged in prostitution.

If the victim was under the age of 14, or if force, fraud, or coercion were used, the punishment upon conviction under 18 U.S.C. §1591 is not less than 15 years in prison, and up to life in prison. If the victim was age 14-17 the punishment will be not less than 10 years in prison, and up to life in prison. And any person who obstructs or attempts to obstruct enforcement of this statute may be fined and imprisoned for up to 25 years. Defendants who are convicted under this statute are also required to pay restitution to their victims for the full amount of the victims’ losses. See 18 U.S.C. §1593.

In addition to the child sex trafficking law at 18 U.S.C. §1591, other federal statutes criminalize a variety of activities related to the prostitution of children. For example, these statutes make it a crime to transport an individual across state lines for the purpose of prostitution or any other illegal sexual activity. See 18 U.S.C. §2421 (transportation of individuals) through 18 U.S.C. 2423(a) (transportation of minors).

It is also a crime under federal law to use the U.S. Mail, the internet, or a telephone (mobile or land line) to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor (under the age of 18) to engage in prostitution or any other illegal sexual activity. 18 U.S.C. §2422(b). For example, it is a criminal offense for an adult to use the U.S. Mail, a chat room, e-mail, or text messages to persuade a minor to meet to engage the minor in prostitution or other illegal sexual activity. And under this statute, it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that either the defendant or the victim crossed state lines.

Federal law also makes it illegal for any person to use the mail, telephone, or internet to knowingly transmit the name, address, telephone number, social security number, or e-mail address of a person under 16 years of age with the intent to entice, encourage, offer, or solicit any person to engage in any illegal sexual activity. 18 U.S.C. §2425. This criminal offense is punishable by up to five years in prison.

In addition to these federal laws, states have human trafficking laws that make it a crime to traffic children for sex, prostitution, forced labor, or other purposes. Some states have broad human trafficking and prostitution laws, and some states have laws that apply specifically to children. These laws are located in a state’s statutes—often in the penal or criminal code.

In Texas, child sex trafficking is strictly prohibited and aligns with federal law, particularly under 18 U.S.C. §1591, which makes it illegal to recruit, entice, or obtain minors for commercial sex acts. Texas law is stringent on this issue, with the Texas Penal Code addressing human trafficking in Chapter 20A. The state statutes criminalize trafficking of persons and continuous trafficking of persons, with specific sections focusing on minors. Penalties under Texas law are severe, with life sentences or terms of 25 to 99 years for trafficking children under 18, and fines that can exceed $10,000. Texas also has provisions for mandatory restitution to the victims and offers civil remedies. Additionally, Texas law enforcement agencies and courts work in conjunction with federal authorities to combat child sex trafficking, ensuring that offenders face substantial penalties at both the state and federal levels.

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