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False Allegations of Human Trafficking in California May Be More Common Than You Think

Aug 16, 2018 by Mike McKneely in Sex Crimes
A Young Girl at an Airport

Human trafficking is a significant concern in the U.S. and around the world. The International Labor Organization estimates there are 40.3 million human trafficking victims around the globe as of 2016. The U.S. is not immune to forced labor and modern-day slavery. Individuals are brought into the country and forced to work. Many citizens and residents are even trafficked in their own communities.

Unfortunately, people know very little about recognizing human trafficking, which leads to many false allegations. Even authorities who should be well-informed on the topic are not, putting individuals and families through devastating situations.

If you or a loved one has been falsely accused of human trafficking, contact a sex crimes attorney from Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today. Call (559) 443-7442, or reach out through our online form to schedule a free and confidential case consultation.

Human Trafficking Under Federal and California Law

Human trafficking is illegal under California Penal Code (PC) Section 236.1. If you deprive another individual of their personal liberty with the intention of forcing them to perform labor or services, you can be convicted of a felony and sentenced to decades in prison and fines reaching $500,000.

There are also numerous federal laws that deal with sex trafficking, including U.S. Code Title 22, Chapter 78: Trafficking Victims Protection, The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (TVPA), The Mann Act, The Customs and Facilitations and Trade Enforcement Reauthorization Act, and Intelligent Reform and Terrorism Prevent Act. The TVPA is the most well-known federal law combatting human trafficking and enabling multiple ways in which prosecutors can go after offenders. If you are accused of human trafficking, it is highly likely you will face charges for a federal crime, which comes with harsh consequences.

Recognizing Signs of Human Trafficking

Polaris is a nonprofit that works to end human trafficking and they suggest the following events are potential signs that a person is a victim of human trafficking:

  • An individual not having the freedom to come or go as they wish
  • A minor performing sexual acts
  • Someone who works in the commercial sex industry
  • A worker who is unpaid, or only paid in tips
  • An employee who works long hours
  • An individual who is not permitted to take work breaks
  • Someone who owes large debts they cannot pay
  • People recruited for work through false promises
  • Someone controlled through high in different aspects of their lives

Other suggested signs of human trafficking include a person possessing the following qualities:

  • Fear, timidity, anxiety, depression, etc.
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Exhibits fear regarding law enforcement
  • Shows signs of abuse
  • Has bruises in various stages of healing
  • Has a minimal amount of personal possessions
  • Does not control their own money or personal documents
  • Inconsistencies in their stories

False Allegations Regarding Human Trafficking

There are many valid signs of human trafficking. However, they are often linked to a person’s living and work conditions, or their physical and psychological health. Something as simple as having a different name as a parent or family member is not inherently a sign of human trafficking, since it is extremely common among healthy situations. Also, it is common for minors to travel with adults they are not related to.

However, with a lack of information regarding human trafficking or inadequate training, you may be questioned regarding your relationship to a minor when you:

  • Travel with your biological or adoptive children who have different last names
  • Travel with foster children with different last names
  • Travel with minor relatives who are not your children
  • Travel with your children’s friends

If authorities stop you while you travel with your young daughter, a young female relative, or one your daughter’s friends, you will likely be questioned by authorities at an airport. That is because women and young girls are at the greatest risk of being trafficked, particularly regarding forced sexual labor.

For example, Silvia Acosta and her daughter, Sybonae Acosta-Castillo, ran into issues with customs officials when returning to Texas from traveling in Europe in July 2018. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents accused Acosta of trafficking her daughter because their last names did not match. Acosta chose to keep her last name when she was married to her daughter’s father, which led to the difference. Agents repeatedly questioned Acosta regarding why she did not take her husband’s last name. The mother and daughter’s situation went viral after Acosta posted about it online.

While the women were eventually free to leave, the situation raises significant concerns. Are individuals educated to identify the real risks of human trafficking? Are professionals and law enforcement agents trained to properly identify victims of this crime and its perpetrators? It seems the answer is “no,” as false allegations of human trafficking continue to harm families in California.

Call a Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help Today

If you are ever stopped by authorities and questioned regarding your relationship to another person, particularly a minor, you have a choice. You may cooperate to the best of your abilities. You also have the right to remain silent until you have an attorney present. If you are detained, request a conversation with your lawyer.

While any incident like the one Acostas experienced should end with you being let go, false accusations of human trafficking can lead to federal or state-level charges. In this situation, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer as quickly as possible.

Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer can help. He has experience handling human trafficking allegations. To discuss your rights and the best way to defend yourself, contact him today at (559) 443-7442 to schedule a free and confidential case evaluation.

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