Dec. 6th 1865, The states ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, thereby officially
outlawing slavery of any and all reaces and involuntary servitude in the United States.
June 23, 1874 - The Padrone statute (18 Stat. 251) is enacted in response to
slavery exploitation of Italians, Sicilians and immigrant children in New England
and the Mid Atlantic USA, by criminalizing the practice of enslaving, buying, selling, or
holding any person in involuntary servitude.
1910 - The Mann Act (36 Stat. 825) criminalizes the transportation of women and
girls in interstate and foreign commerce for purposes of prostitution or any other “immoral
June 17 1930 - Section 307 of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (46 Stat. 590)
prohibits the entry and importation into the United States of “[a]ll goods, wares, articles, and
merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country” by forced
labor or indentured labor under penal sanctions.
April 10 -1944 - The U.S. Supreme Court effectively ends statesupported debt
bondage in Pollock v. Williams, 322 U.S. 4 (1944), invalidating statutes in Southern states that
enabled employers to have their workers arrested for fraud if they tried to leave.
In the last two decades, Congress has passed a number of comprehensive bills designed to bring
the full power and attention of the federal government to the fight against human
trafficking. Below are brief summaries of some of the most significant legislation in this
area. Given the breadth and depth of these bills, these descriptions are not exhaustive.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000
Modern prohibitions of human trafficking in the United States have their roots in the 13th
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which barred slavery and involuntary servitude in 1865.
With the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), Pub. L. No. 106- 386,
in 2000, the U.S. Government was equipped with new tools and resources to mount a comprehensive and
coordinated campaign to eliminate modern forms of slavery domestically and internationally.
Critically, the TVPA established the framework for the “3 P’s” of the fight against human
trafficking: protection, prevention, and prosecution.
Protection: The TVPA provided increased protections for trafficking
victims in the United States in several key ways:
- By making foreign victims eligible for federally funded or administered health and other
benefits and services and by requiring federal agencies to expand the provision of such
benefits and services to victims, regardless of their immigration status;
- By creating immigration protections for foreign national victims of human trafficking,
including protection from removal for victims of trafficking (the T visa) and victims of
certain crimes (the U visa); and by allowing certain nonimmigrant status holders the
opportunity to adjust to permanent resident status.
Prosecution: The TVPA sharpened and enhanced the capacity of federal
prosecutors to bring human traffickers to justice for their crimes. Prior to the TVPA, the
Department of Justice (DOJ) filed human trafficking cases under several federal statutes related to
involuntary servitude and slavery, but the criminal laws were narrow and patchwork. The TVPA
addresses the inadequacy of the legal framework by:
- Adding new criminal provisions prohibiting forced labor, trafficking with respect to
peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor, and sex trafficking of children or by
force, fraud, or coercion;
- Criminalizing attempts to engage in these activities;
- Mandating that traffickers pay restitution to their victims, and providing for
- Strengthening penalties for existing trafficking crimes.
Prevention: The TVPA strengthened the U.S. Government’s prevention
efforts by providing for international initiatives to be established and carried out to improve
economic opportunity for potential victims as a means of deterring trafficking.
The TVPA also created the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in the State
Department, making that office responsible for publishing an annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP)
report that describes and ranks the efforts of countries to combat human trafficking. The TIP
Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human
The TVPA also required the President to establish an Interagency Task Force to Monitor and
Combat Trafficking (PITF), a coordinating task force comprising cabinet-level officers chaired by
the Secretary of State, and directed it to carry out activities that included measuring and
evaluating the progress of the United States and other countries in preventing human trafficking,
protecting its victims, and prosecuting its perpetrators.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 (TVPRA 2003), Pub. L. No.
108-193, refined federal criminal provisions against trafficking, to include adding human
trafficking crimes as a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) predicate, and
created a civil remedy enabling trafficking victims to file lawsuits against their traffickers in
federal district court.
The TVPRA 2003 also established a Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG) within the executive
branch, to “coordinate activities of Federal departments and agencies regarding policies (including
grants and grant policies) involving the international trafficking in persons and the
implementation of” the TVPA. The SPOG consists of the senior officials from the agencies that work
to address TIP, and is chaired by the Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking
Persons (TIP Office) of the Department of State (DOS).
In addition, the TVPRA 2003 mandated an annual report from the
Attorney General to the U.S. Congress regarding U.S. governmental efforts to implement the
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005
Among other things, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 (TVPRA 2005),
Pub. L. No. 109-164, provided extraterritorial jurisdiction over trafficking offenses committed
overseas by persons employed by or accompanying the federal government.
The statute established a grant program for states, Indian tribes, local governments, and
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to develop, expand, and strengthen assistance for trafficking
victims and directed the Department of Health and Human Services to establish and implement a pilot
program to provide benefits and services for juvenile trafficking victims.
The TVPRA 2005 also established a grant program for state and local law enforcement agencies to
combat trafficking. In addition, the TVPRA 2005 expanded the reporting requirements of the TVPRA
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA 2008),
Pub. L. No. 110-457, featured new measures to prevent and deter trafficking. The TVPRA 2008 further
improved the tools available to hold traffickers accountable by:
- Creating new crimes that impose appropriately serious penalties on those who obstruct or
attempt to obstruct the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes;
- Permitting prosecution of sex traffickers who recklessly disregard the fact that force,
fraud, or coercion would be used against the victim;
- Eliminating the requirement to prove the defendant knew a sex trafficking victim was a
minor in cases where the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the minor;
- Expanding the crime of forced labor by providing that “force” includes the abuse or
threatened abuse of legal process;
- Imposing criminal liability on those who, knowingly and with intent to defraud, recruit
workers from outside the United States for employment within the United States by making
materially false or fraudulent representations;
- Increasing the penalty for conspiring to commit trafficking-related crimes;
- Penalizing those who knowingly benefit financially from participating in a venture that
engaged in trafficking crimes.
With respect to prevention and protection, the TVPRA 2008 directed the government to provide
information about workers’ rights to all people applying for work and education-based visas. The
TVPRA 2008 expanded the protections available with the T visa, and required that all unaccompanied
alien children be screened as potential victims of human trafficking.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013 (TVPRA 2013), Pub. L. No. 113-4,
focuses in part on the elimination of human trafficking from the supply chain of goods. This
legislation requires the Director of the DOS TIP Office—working with other DOS officials, DOL
officials, and other U.S. governmental officials—to build partnerships between the U.S. Government
and private entities to ensure that U.S. citizens do not use items, products, or materials produced
or extracted with the use and labor of trafficking victims and that those entities do not
contribute to trafficking in persons involving sexual exploitation.
The TVPRA 2013 also:
- Strengthened the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking used by DOS to
describe the antitrafficking efforts of U.S. and foreign governments in its annual TIP
- Amended the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act to include labor
- Amended the federal criminal code to (1) subject U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens
who reside overseas and engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under 18 years of age to
a fine or imprisonment or both; and (2) subject a person who knowingly destroys, conceals,
removes, confiscates, or possesses certain immigration documents to a fine or imprisonment or
- Extended the statute of limitations for a person to bring a civil action for an injury
received while the person was a minor that was caused by certain sex- or forced labor-related
violations of federal criminal law;
- and added reporting requirements for the Attorney General’s human trafficking report.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA), Pub. L. No. 114-22, again gave the
Department more tools to address human trafficking, by:
- Adding “patronizes” and “solicits” to 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) to facilitate prosecution of
customers of sex trafficking victims.
- Adding “advertises” to the modes of commission of an offense under 18 U.S.C. § 1591 when
there is proof that the defendant knew the victim being advertised was a minor or that force,
fraud, or coercion would be used.
- Clarifying that there is no need to prove either that the defendant knew, or that he
recklessly disregarded, the fact that a sex trafficking victim was a minor if the defendant had
a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim.
- Amending 18 U.S.C. § 1594 to direct any assets forfeited in a human trafficking case to be
used to satisfy a victim restitution order. It further allows forfeiture of, for example, any
asset that is involved in, or is traceable to the proceeds of, human trafficking.
- Adding the production of child pornography to the definition of “illicit sexual conduct” as
used in 18 U.S.C. § 2423, which prohibits transportation and travel-conduct involving illegal
sexual activity with children. See 18 U.S.C. § 2423(f).
- Creating a mandatory $5,000 special assessment that applies to non-indigent defendants for
each count of conviction of certain offenses, including offenses set forth in Chapter 77 and
Chapter 110. The revenue generated from this special assessment shall be used to support
programs to provide services to victims of human trafficking and other offenses.
- Directing the Attorney General to create and maintain a National Strategy to Combat Human