The term “human trafficking” has become a buzzword of sorts in recent years. Headlines declare popular sporting championships to be among the leading venues for human trafficking, and statistics show that human trafficking has become the most profitable organized crimes. Mothers shield their young children, convinced that every door-to-door salesperson is connected to child sex trafficking and looking to spirit their children away to sell them in seedy alleys.

While there is no doubt that human trafficking is a problem in today’s society, there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about trafficking. In fact, many acts that are penalized under state and federal human trafficking statutes were already penalized under existing prostitution and pandering laws. However, with increased public awareness about trafficking, legislators and prosecutors are under pressure to crack down on the criminal enterprise. Any person arrested for pandering, or pimping, could easily find himself or herself charged with the far more serious offense of human trafficking.

What is Human Trafficking?

In general, there are two types of human trafficking: forced labor or forced sexual exploitation. While human smuggling, or the secret transport of people across borders, may be involved in human trafficking, it is a separate offense.

Labor trafficking occurs when a person, often an illegal immigrant, is required to work for little to no pay and with no means of ever quitting the job or getting out of the situation.

Sex trafficking occurs when a person is forced into prostitution through coercion, threats, violence, or intimidation. Any person under the age of 18 who is involved in prostitution is automatically considered to be a victim of human trafficking.

Victims of human trafficking span all ethnic backgrounds, ages, and genders. Often, labor trafficking involves illegal immigrants or new immigrants who are trapped into labor through debt servitude; however, there are several labor trafficking rings—often involving door-to-door sales—in which young people are lured with the promise of easy money but instead forced to work long hours far from home with no chance of making any real money. Sex trafficking often involves runaways and disenfranchised youth. These may be teens who are drawn into trusting an older adult who later turns the tables by requiring them to prostitute themselves, or they may be teens ensnared by drug addiction with no other way to fuel their addiction.

In both types of trafficking, the victim finds himself or herself in a situation from which there seems to be no escape. Often, the victim is lured through false promises and is thereafter trapped into labor or prostitution through violence or other means of forcing submission.

Oklahoma Human Trafficking Law

Trafficking in humans in Oklahoma is a felony that carries a minimum of five years in prison if the victim is aged 18 or older. However, in recent years, the spotlight is on child sex trafficking, or human trafficking involving minors.

In Oklahoma, the age of consent to sex is 16; however, both state and federal law prohibit minors under the age of 18 from engaging in commercial sexual activity. Any person under 18 who is involved in prostitution, exotic dancing, or porn is considered to be a victim of human trafficking.

Prior to the enactment of Oklahoma’s human trafficking statutes, prostitution of a minor under 16 was prosecuted as child prostitution. Child prostitution is a felony sex crime that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and sex offender registration.

While prostitution of a minor under 16 can still be prosecuted as child prostitution, it is also considered human trafficking. Trafficking in minors under the age of 18 carries even more stringent penalties than child prostitution, and therefore, most prosecutors will charge a defendant with the more serious offense. Human trafficking involving minors under 18 carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, as well as a maximum fine of $20,000.

Human Trafficking as a Federal Offense

Human trafficking can be prosecuted in Oklahoma District Courts as a violation of state law, but in some circumstances, it is prosecuted by United States Attorneys as a violation of federal law. The United States will take jurisdiction over cases that occur on tribal land, on federal property, or across state lines.

The penalties for human trafficking are severe if a person is convicted in federal court. Child sex trafficking as a federal offense is punished depending on the age of the victim(s). If the victim is a child under the age of 14, sex trafficking carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison. If the victim is aged 14 to 17, the defendant faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.

Labor trafficking, in general, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; however, under certain circumstances, the penalty is much more serious. If the trafficking involves kidnapping, sexual assault, attempted murder, or homicide, the offense brings the possibility of a life sentence.

Oklahoma Trafficking Lawyer

If you are arrested for pandering or procuring a prostitute, you criminal charge could quickly be elevated to human trafficking. Do not talk to law enforcement or others about your case. Refuse to answer questions and insist upon your right to a lawyer. Call Coventon Criminal Defense at (405) 417-3842 to schedule a risk free consultation with an attorney equipped to handle the challenges of your defense.