It sounds like it’s the plot summary of an episode of Law and Order: SVU. Since 2009, hundreds of Thai women have been enslaved in a sex trafficking ring across 11 states – including right here in the Chicago area.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a TV show. It’s real life. Which means we’re dealing with serious criminal allegations.
Supposedly, hundreds of women from Thailand were trafficked to cities across the United States for prostitution purposes. The women were held on over $60,000 of bondage debt. That’s when a person agrees to provide work or services in exchange for the repayment of a debt or some other obligation. To pay for their passage to the United States, these Thai women allegedly had to engage in daily prostitution.
Obviously, it is illegal to force people to be prostitutes, so that’s one crime. Then, along with sex trafficking, the perpetrators also had to launder the money coming in so it would appear as if they received it from a legitimate source.
Six Chicago area suspects were taken into federal custody, including two women and one man who served as house bosses, and three other men who served as facilitators. All six were charged with:
- One count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking;
- One count of conspiracy to commit transportation to engage in prostitution;
- One count of conspiracy to engage in money laundering; and
- One count of conspiracy to use a communications facility to promote prostitution.
So sex trafficking is a crime, but what exactly are the specific Illinois laws and penalties for sex trafficking?
Involuntary Servitude and Trafficking: Laws
Illinois law is very detailed when it comes to involuntary servitude and trafficking, saying:
A person commits involuntary servitude when he or she knowingly subjects, attempts to subject, or engages in a conspiracy to subject another person to labor or services obtained or maintained through:
- Causing or threatening physical harm;
- Physical restraint;
- Tampering with a passport, immigration document, or ID;
- Exerting financial control; and
- Making the debtor believe they will suffer serious harm if they don’t perform the labor or services.
Under this law, “labor” means work of economic or financial value, and “services” means activities resulting from a relationship between a person and the actor in which the person performs activities under the supervision of or for the benefit of the actor. Commercial sexual activity – prostitution – is an activity that is considered “services.”
A person commits trafficking in persons when he or she knowingly:
- Recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains by any means, or attempts to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, or obtain by any means, another person, intending or knowing that the person will be subjected to involuntary servitude; or
- Benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture that has engaged in an act of involuntary servitude or involuntary sexual servitude of a minor.
Involuntary Servitude and Trafficking: Penalties
All involuntary servitude and sex trafficking crimes are felonies, but the class of felony can differ.
For example, if you threaten or cause physical harm, you can be charged with a Class X felony, punishable by 6-30 years in prison. However, if you damage someone’s passport or government-issued ID, you will be charged with a Class 3 felony, punishable by 2-5 years in prison. Exerting financial control is a Class 4 felony, punishable by 1-3 years in prison.
Trafficking in persons is a Class 1 felony, punishable by 4-15 years in prison.
As you can see, sex trafficking and involuntary servitude are serious crimes with severe penalties. If you want any chance of getting these charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed, reach out to an experienced Chicago defense attorney for the best possible outcome.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.