In 2003, Washington became the first state to make human trafficking a crime, and since then, every state in the nation has put in place laws and penalties against those who want to profit from forced labor or what the National Conference of State Legislatures calls “sexual servitude.”
Human trafficking is also a federal crime. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 is the cornerstone of legislation and established several methods of prosecuting traffickers, preventing human trafficking and protecting victims and survivors.
In terms of state laws, Virginia has some of the “toughest in the United States,” said Capt. Liz Scott of the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office. Anyone who takes or detains people against their will and forces them into prostitution or unlawful sexual intercourse can be charged with a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. The punishment is twice as severe if the acts involve minors.
Virginia laws targeting sex and labor trafficking include violations for those who take money from sex acts as well as the “earnings” of those performing the acts; the abduction and kidnapping of potential victims; or transporting people for such purposes.
But when it comes to those who purchase the services of those who are trafficked, “the law quite frankly is a slap on the wrist,” said Detective Rob Grella with the Stafford Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s a misdemeanor,” Grella said about those engaged with prostitutes. “If you continue to do it, you’re probably gonna get some jail time, but the majority of time, you’re gonna get fines and fees. It’s more embarrassing to the guy because his wife or girlfriend might find out.”