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With the help of celebrity activists and religious organizations raising awareness of the epidemic related to the buying and selling of humans for commercial sex trafficking, the issue has become well known to average Americans. The truth is starting to be realized:  human trafficking isn’t a “them” problem, but rather an “all of us” problem. As human trafficking becomes more known, both defense and civil attorneys will become crucial components in the victims’ healing process.

Fighting Criminal Convictions

In most of the United States, prostitution is illegal. Police use strategies that result in high volume arrests for low-level offenses in an effort to curb this illegal activity. Victims of sex trafficking—sometimes still children—are often caught in these snares, while their traffickers walk free. As a consequence, a victim of sex trafficking can end up in jail or face criminal charges for acts they were forced or coerced into, sometimes by threats of violence to themselves or their families.

During the arrest process, victims may not disclose or understand their status as a sex trafficking victim. Many victims distrust the police or believe nothing positive will come out reporting their traffickers to law enforcement. This breakdown in communication, frequently enhanced by fear, means traffickers often escape legal repercussions while victims end up with criminal records. This is one of the many reasons attorneys play an important role in assisting victims of sex trafficking.

An arrest or a conviction for sex crimes may bar survivors from employment, housing, and economic assistance. In many cases, victims have extensive criminal histories as a result of their trafficker’s force, fraud or coercion.

Many states have trouble reconciling that these are sex trafficking victims when contrasted against the crimes they are charged with. Consequently, these victims of sex trafficking enter the legal system on prostitution or drug charges, despite state laws classifying them as victims.

While the criminal system is harsh toward these unfortunate victims, it also means that sex trafficking victims frequently come into contact with criminal defense attorneys. Court-appointed or not, a compassionate criminal defense attorney should ask questions about the history that led their client to this point in their lives. This type of compassion can reveal the truth about the situation, which may save a sex trafficking victim.


Criminal convictions can create obstacles toward financial stability and independence. When it comes to criminal convictions, attorneys can help victims of sex trafficking in a number of ways. First, once an arrest has been made, an attorney will be a victim’s first line of defense against any criminal charges. Secondly, attorneys know about special laws that aid victims of sex trafficking in putting their lives back together. For example, as of 2018, there are 33 states with little-known laws called vacatur laws. Vacatur laws are an avenue to help those with convictions stemming from their human trafficking victimization overcome their criminal records. Not all states provide vacatur laws. Five states allow records sealing for arrests and convictions associated with a survivor’s sex trafficking; while three states allow records sealing for those under 18 only.

Unfortunately, nine states have established no avenue for relief for sex trafficking victims caught in the legal system.

Referral to Civil Litigation Attorney

In addition to providing criminal defense, private defense or court-appointed attorneys can refer victims to a civil litigation attorney. A civil litigation attorney, with extensive experience in holding those who benefited financially from sex trafficking accountable, may be able to help a survivor receive compensation to cover medical treatment and other expenses suffered at the hands of abusive traffickers. As well as help a survivor seek punitive damages against the perpetrator and the companies that aided and abetted in the victimization.

Holding the Hospitality Industry Accountable

Victims of sex trafficking experience immeasurable pain and suffering—often both physically and mentally. Victims are frequently beaten, threatened, terrorized, and exposed to Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Additionally, victims may experience mental health effects such as anxiety, insecurity, and fear. Research has shown that survivors of human trafficking often have high levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Trafficking may also lead to cognitive impairment, memory loss, depression and even suicide.

As a result of the physical and mental torment they’ve endured, survivors of human trafficking often need medical treatment. Federal law recognizes this need and allows for survivors to seek civil remedies from traffickers or any other person (or entity) who benefitted from their victimization. Additionally, some states allow for the awarding of actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees and costs.

Survivors should not have to bear the burden caused by those who profited from their victimization. A civil litigation attorney can reset the power dynamic between the victimized and the victimizers. Through civil litigation, an attorney can help restore some measure of dignity and purpose to those victimized by these predators.

Unfortunately, human traffickers largely go unpunished in the criminal courts. Because of this, it may be hard for survivors to get the justice they deserve in that arena. While individual traffickers may be difficult to track down, federal law allows victims of sex trafficking to hold businesses accountable, when they were aware that they were profiting from this illegal, abusive activity. With the right civil litigator on your side, you can begin piecing your life back together. Many survivors of sex trafficking may not know that they can hold hotels, motels and other businesses accountable for failure to report suspicious behavior. But federal law designates businesses responsible for looking out for and reporting sex trafficking.

Civil Litigation: The Deterrent

The American Bar Association says that the number of sex trafficking cases identified are “rapidly increasing” each year. Civil litigation, in essence, works as an incentive for the hospitality industry to stay on the lookout for suspicious behavior. A lawsuit can cost a business millions of dollars and could, in certain cases, bankrupt a corrupt business. Businesses who hope to avoid the financial repercussions of a civil litigation must do their due diligence to prevent sex trafficking from occurring on their premises. There are several red flag indicators that hotel staff should be properly trained and aware of. Common indicators include:

  • Excessive traffic in and out of the hotel or motel room
  • Paying for rooms in cash
  • Physical signs of injury or abuse
  • Poor physical health
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Extended stay with few possessions
  • Avoiding authority or law enforcement
  • Requests rooms overlooking parking lots
  • And many others

The Carlson Law Firm Can Help Restore A Sex Trafficking Survivor’s Voice

As a survivor, you have the right to reclaim your life. Seeking help from a civil litigator who specializes in helping survivors of human or sex trafficking is crucial to your recovery. By contacting our firm, you will gain access to L. Todd Kelly, a Board-Certified Partner in The Carlson Law Firm’s Austin location. Kelly and his dedicated team of professionals can answer your questions and help you decide if civil litigation is the right step for you. Additionally, our firm has the resources and knowledge and to handle sex trafficking civil litigation. Kelly has helped clients recover millions of dollars from perpetrators and negligent organizations and businesses. Further, his team has a proven track record of fighting against large corporations on behalf of people injured by their actions.

An inaugural inductee into the Texas Lawyer Hall of Fame (for his representation of a sexual assault victim), Kelly has appeared on numerous national news media on behalf of sexual abuse victims nationwide and abroad. Moreover, Kelly is a dedicated advocate for abuse victims. He leads a team of professionals intent on making those responsible for the victimization of others to pay for their actions the way he best knows how: by exercising the rights guaranteed by the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in our system of civil courts.

You will not pay for an initial consultation with Kelly or his team, and will only pay if he successfully resolves your case.

Highlights of Sexual Abuse cases handled by Kelly

  • Represented Jamie Leigh Jones in her rape case against Halliburton/KBR
    • Changed federal law related to arbitration for military contractors
    • Featured on 20/20; Rachael Maddow; and others
    • Featured in “Hot Coffee: The Movie”
    • Presented to Congressman Ted Poe, who then authored “The Prisoner of Baghdad”
  • Presented to Senator Al Franken who then passed the “Jamie Leigh Jones Amendment” – led to a segment by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show
  • Successfully represented several other sexual assault victims against Halliburton/KBR
  • Inducted into the Texas Lawyer Hall of Fame in 2013 for successfully representing an autistic girl raped by a daycare worker in Galveston County Texas. Resulted in an 8-figure verdict.
  • Successfully represented a girl sexually assaulted in a hotel room by a fellow Army reservist.
  • Successfully represented a 19-year-old girl who was given a sexually transmitted disease by the owner of a nationally known restaurant chain.
  • Presented to AAJ and several colleges on the issues of arbitration related to sexual assault in the workplace.
  • Successfully represented two women who were sexually abused by their psychiatrist.
  • Currently representing victims of clergy sexual abuse against the clergyman and the church which subjected these women to him.
  • Presently suing a business and individuals, including national hotel chains, related to sexual abuse and rape on premises.
  • Currently suing two separate doctors for sexually assaulting their patients.
  • Suing school districts for sexual assaults on students.
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