If you were forced to have sex against your will, it is considered rape and against the law. California’s rape law is codified in Penal Code §261, which makes sex illegal when it is initiated through force, fear, threats, or duress. If a date, partner, coworker, acquaintance, or stranger forces you to have sex against your will, you can press criminal charges against that person for crimes committed against “the state of California.”
Forced sex on a larger, more orchestrated scale is known as sexual slavery or sex trafficking—one of many forms of abuse endured by victims of human trafficking. In these cases, you can hold the offender liable in civil court, as well as anyone who knew or should have known about the sexual abuse.
Regardless of how long ago you were forced to have sex, time doesn’t erase what happened. This article will discuss how to seek justice and what your legal options may be.
What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion-a-year global industry. It involves controlling a person or group through force, fraud, or coercion to exploit them for forced labor, sexual acts, or both. In a 2017 report, the International Labor Organization estimated that there were more than 24.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide. This included 16 million victims of labor exploitation, 4.8 million victims of sexual exploitation, and 4.1 million victims of state-imposed forced labor.
California—a populous border state with a significant immigrant population and the world’s fifth-largest economy—is one of the nation’s top destination states for human trafficking. San Francisco, in particular, has been noted as a hub for human trafficking. As much as 80% of the sex trafficking business can be found in Orange County. International Boulevard in Oakland is well-known across the nation as a hot spot for child sex slaves. This past January, a man and three women were arrested for sex trafficking and running a brothel in San Jose.
State authorities have vowed to make violent crime their top priority. Newly released crime data shows that:
- Violent crimes dropped 6% from 2018-2019.
- Homicides went down 11% with 41 murders—the lowest rate in almost 60 years.
- Rapes were down 15% and sex trafficking fell 57%.
Whether this is a true indication of a decrease in crime or a lack of reporting remains to be seen.
One of the most important ways to end sex trafficking is to hold institutions accountable for aiding abusers who hide in plain sight.
How to Seek Justice Against Forcible Intercourse
There are two ways for survivors of forced sex to pursue justice through the legal system:
Press criminal charges: You may contact local law enforcement to file a police report. After a police investigation, the officer handling your case may contact the district attorney who can then decide to press criminal charges. If the evidence is compelling beyond a reasonable doubt, then the offender can receive jail time, probation, fines payable to the state, and mandatory registration as a state sex offender.
File a civil lawsuit: You may also contact a civil lawyer to file a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced attorney will thoroughly investigate your claim and identify any responsible parties allowable in the civil courts’ expanded scope of liability. If the lawsuit succeeds based on a preponderance of the evidence, survivors of sexual abuse can receive compensation for medical bills, counseling, pain and suffering, and other losses related to the abuse.
I Was Forced to Have Sex: Who Can Be Held Liable?
Third parties that fail to act are often held responsible in cases of forced sex. These may include:
- Hotels: Hotels are a major enabler of sex trafficking. According to The Polaris Project, 75% of sex-trafficking survivors were exploited in hotels at some point. Despite obvious signs—like extended stays, payments in cash, trash cans filled with condoms, empty bottles of lubricant littering the rooms, and lines of men waiting outside the door—94% of the victims never received any help or concern from hotel staff. In fact, one teenage victim was reportedly told by hotel staff to “keep it down” after she was raped.
- School districts: Often schools are the first opportunity for the identification of sexual exploitation. Educators are trained as mandatory reporters to identify and prevent human trafficking. California schools have reported suspicions that children in lower grades were having inappropriate relationships with adults and strangers, as well as high school students they believe were forced into prostitution over the weekends and return to school on Mondays. In some cases, the perpetrators were educators, coaches, and fathers of students in the school.
- Websites: When the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)—also known as FOSTA-SESTA—took effect on April 11, 2018, it was championed as a great leap forward in tackling the problem of sex trafficking by amending section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and expanding prosecutorial power over online platforms (like Craigslist, Snapchat, Facebook, and Tumblr) that turn a blind eye to sexual exploitation. In turn, these websites removed their adult services sections. However, there were unintended consequences. Less than a year later, San Francisco investigations into sex trafficking skyrocketed 170%, while other types of violent crime went down, and law enforcement officials said the law has made it harder for them to investigate the now-largely-underground activity.
- Photo developers: California is one of 12 states that require police notification within 36 hours if a photo technician discovers pictures depicting possible child abuse or sexual exploitation. In fact, film dropped off at a CVS in Redondo Beach led to the arrest of a former elementary school teacher involved in the sexual exploitation of at least 23 children.
- Doctors, psychiatrists, and pharmaceutical workers: Medical professionals are specially trained to identify sex trafficking survivors and have a legal duty as mandatory reporters to contact the police regarding their suspicions. The case of Doe vs. Dabbagh established that a pharmacy and psychiatrist can be held liable for prescribing powerful sedatives that aid in forced prostitution.
- Airports, banks, bars, casinos, concert venues, nightclubs, restaurants, rideshares, sports arenas, and truck stops: Anyone who serves sex traffickers and their clientele can be held responsible for profiting off criminal activities taking place on their properties. Civil lawyers need only prove “they should have known” in order to secure a recovery.
- Child welfare or foster care agency: The California Child Welfare Council estimates that between 50% and 80% of commercially sexually exploited children in California are or were formally involved with the child welfare system. Like doctors, child welfare and foster care agents are specially trained to identify signs of sexual exploitation and are legally mandated to report any known or suspected cases of child abuse. Failure to do so could open them up to liability in a personal injury lawsuit.
Contact Sexual Assault Lawyers in San Francisco For Help
If you were forced to have sex against your will, even if it only happened once, you deserve to seek justice—no matter how long ago it happened. If you’ve been a victim of human trafficking, working with an attorney who specializes in sexual abuse cases can provide you with the legal expertise you need to hold all parties involved liable for personal damages you’ve suffered as a result of the abuse.
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.