Skip to main content

Sex Trafficking Lawsuits: What You Need to Know About Filing

By March 14, 2019January 29th, 2020Blog
sex trafficking lawsuit
This post was written before the passage of AB-218. For information regarding the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual assault/abuse, click here or contact our team of experienced representatives.


Victims of trafficking are often coerced or held against their will and forced to perform services. Many of these victims are young children, and most are forced into hazardous jobs like sex trafficking, drug dealing, and quarry work. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally. Over 8,500 reports flooded the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the U.S. last year, according to the White House. If you have been a victim of sex trafficking, you may be able to obtain compensation for personal damages suffered by filing a sex trafficking lawsuit.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Which legislative efforts that make it easier to sue perpetrators of sex trafficking crimes,
  • Who can be held liable for sex trafficking in civil court,
  • What the statute of limitations are for punishing traffickers criminally and civilly, and
  • How to seek financial compensation for your losses.

Find out how working with an experienced attorney will help you obtain the justice you deserve.  

New Legislation Paves the Way for Sex Trafficking Lawsuits

With the number of sex trafficking victims growing, new legislation has been put into place in efforts to prevent further growth.

  • Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act: President Trump signed a law on Jan. 8, 2019 which authorized $430 million to be spent over the next four years to help combat sex and labor trafficking both in the United States and abroad. The law strengthens programs to help survivors and improve prevention, investigative, and prosecution efforts. 

This is an urgent humanitarian issue,” the President explained. “My administration is committed to leveraging every resource we have to confront this threat, to support the victims and survivors, and to hold traffickers accountable for their heinous crimes.”

The amendment to the Communications Act of 1934 clarifies that section 230 cannot be used to prohibit the enforcement of Federal and State criminal and civil law relating to “sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking, and for other purposes.”

According to Senator Rob Portman, who spearheaded the legislative effort, reports of child sex trafficking increased 846% from 2010 to 2015, when the adult classified section flourished on Backpage. The site faced numerous legal disputes but used Section 230 to shield itself from liability—which was meant to protect free speech, not apply to companies that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking.

The adult listings on Backpage were suspended in January 2017. Similarly, Craigslist ended their personal ads with the passage of the bill.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Enabling Sex Trafficking Abuses?

Individuals responsible for sex trafficking are typically prosecuted by the District Attorney in criminal proceedings, with the end goal being to put criminals behind bars. This path to justice helps society but does little for the victims who may suffer adverse effects of their time in captivity. In addition to pressing criminal charges against individuals, you may turn to civil court to seek personal restitution in an effort to obtain the best possible treatment and recovery in the years to come.

Civil courts cast a broader net to look at: Who facilitated or enabled sex trafficking? Who should have spoken up to authorities, but turned a blind eye? Who had a legal duty to protect you from sexual predators?

Sex trafficking lawsuits may implicate multiple third parties with success, depending upon the unique circumstances of your case:

  • The people running the operation: Not only can individuals or groups directly responsible faces criminal fines and jail time, but these same perpetrators of crime can be held liable for paying civil damages, too.
  • Online websites and marketplaces: “Interactive computer service providers” are legally expected to moderate their users’ defamatory and obscene content.
  • Hotels: If a hotel operator rents a room to a trafficker or buyer of sex, the hotel itself can be held liable for damages suffered by a sex trafficking victim.
  • Casinos, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, concert venues, sports arenas, banks, advertisers, truck stops, and transportation companies: Anyone who serves sex traffickers and their clientele can be held liable for the acts committed if they knew or should have reasonably known of the criminal activities taking place.
  • Businesses in construction, agriculture, mining, forestry, fishing, textiles, and manufacturing: Any business employing child or trafficked laborers can be prosecuted against by victims who do not receive financial compensation for their labor. In Pattaiso v. Alahmad, the plaintiff settled with two labor recruiters for $3,000 after a trafficker forced her to work during her 13-year captivity.
  • Doctors, psychiatrists, pharmaceutical workers: Trafficked workers are sometimes put onto prescription drugs to maintain a state of compliance. Those who knew or should have known these prescriptions were being abused possess a legal liability, as evidenced by the case of Doe vs. Dabbagh, where a trafficked girl received a settlement after a psychiatrist she was seeing prescribed the drugs that aided in forcing her into prostitution. Medical professionals possess training to identify sex traffic victims and have a legal duty as mandated reporters  to contact the police regarding their suspicions.

How Will the Statute of Limitations Affect My Lawsuit?

The State of California’s Civil Code §52.5 allows human trafficking survivors seven years (from
the date of freedom) or up to 10 years of attaining the age of majority for child sex trafficking victims to file a civil claim.

The statute may be tolled in cases where:

  • The plaintiff is a minor, incapable of making legal decisions.
  • The defendant interferes with the plaintiff’s right to pursue justice.
  • It is impossible to file a lawsuit at the time due to injury, disability, or incapacitation.
  • A lack of knowledge prevents the filing of a claim.
  • Criminal proceedings are underway.

Federally, as per 18 U.S. Code § 159, some forms of sex trafficking do not have a statute of limitation.

How to Seek Assistance and Compensation for Your Losses

Once you have obtained freedom from your situation, consider the government resources
available to you as a survivor of sex trafficking. The following websites can connect you with everything from food, clothing, and shelter aid to educational grant money and refugee status:

  • The Office for Victims of Crime
  • The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (minors)
  • Office on Trafficking In Persons / The US Dept. of Health & Human Services

Seeking justice is the next step. Contacting a civil attorney can help you secure additional compensation from those who wronged you. Civil lawyers advocate for you to receive money for:

  • Past, present, and future medical bills, including physical and psychological care
  • Past, present, and future loss of wages or loss of earning capacity
  • Intentional infliction of emotional pain and suffering
  • Attorney fees
  • Punitive damages (up to three times the amount of the actual damages)

The intangible damages for emotional pain and suffering can be quite high in some cases. Past awards have included up to $800 per day of servitude, according to the Human Trafficking Legal Center.

Contact a Sexual Assault Attorney Who Can Help

While no amount of money can be guaranteed when filing a sex trafficking lawsuit, seeking a legal representative with a proven track record of fighting for the rights of the sexually abused gives you the best chance for maximum recovery.

The attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn are dedicated to helping victims of sex trafficking and sexual abuse. We construct a winning legal argument on your behalf, thoroughly investigate the case, secure expert and eyewitness testimony, and help you connect with local resources for medical treatment and rehabilitation. As compassionate advocates for the mistreated and abused, our fight doesn’t end until we’ve obtained the recovery you deserve.

You likely have mixed feelings about opening up to a complete stranger, but the attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn have spoken to and helped scores of survivors of sexual abuse. The members of our firm are engaged advocates for social justice with ties to local outreach and survivor support groups.

You deserve to have a compassionate advocate who will navigate these complex systems on your behalf. Contact us today, or call +1 (415) 800-0590 to set up a free initial consultation.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.