Federal Sex Trafficking Laws: What You Need to Know

American flag and gavel depicting federal sex trafficking criminal attorney

Most of the world will be familiar by now with Jeffrey Epstein. He was the American billionaire who was facing federal sex trafficking charges.

He died in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial for sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

Epstein was indicted in 2007 on similar charges, but ultimately served 13 months of jail time for two charges. He was ordered to pay settlements to 40 women and was allowed into a work-release program where he spent most of his days in a cushy office.

New details have come out since his second arrest and subsequent death about how none of his victims in the first case were notified of his settlement.

As part of his first plea agreement, Epstein stipulated that none of his co-conspirators would be charged with any crimes.

This time, Epstein could have been sentenced to up to 45 years in prison, and not offered any deals.

Which leads many to wonder just who his co-conspirators would have been, and if his death was not a suicide.

Federal Sex Trafficking Charges

An ongoing defamation case brought by one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre, centers around one of Epstein’s best friends, Ghislaine Maxwell.

Although this is a civil suit, what Giuffre has alleged against Maxwell amounts to a vast, long-running child sex-trafficking ring.

Many of Epstein’s alleged victims in the new case were as young as 14 at the time.

If federal prosecutors can bring charges against Epstein’s co-conspirators in the wake of his death, they could be facing federal sex trafficking charges.

Here are some of the federal laws having to do with sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, and crimes related to sex trafficking.

Federal Sex Trafficking Related Laws

18 U.S.C § 1591- Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion

This law makes it a federal crime to cause any minor to engage in any commercial sex act, and both of these terms are defined broadly.

It applies both to American and foreign national children trafficked in the United States, and American citizens or residents who are trafficked outside of the U.S.

It does not require proof of force or coercion or the crossing of state lines.

The penalty for this crime could be up to life in prison and financial restitution to the child, depending on the severity of the crime and the age of the child.

Several other laws apply to crimes committed in the course of child trafficking. They are listed below along with their potential penalties.

For more, please visit the Department of Justice website for a full description and penalties.

  • 18 U.S.C. § 2421 & 18 U.S.C. § 2423 – Transportation & Transportation of a minor – up to life in prison.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2422– Coercion and enticement – this includes the use of the internet by adults for enticing children. The penalty is potentially life in prison.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2425– Use of interstate facilities to transmit information about a minor – this crime is punishable by up to five years in prison.

In addition to these laws prohibiting the trafficking of minors, several federal acts aim to prevent child trafficking and assist victims who have been trafficked.

Trafficking Victims Protection Act

The first federal that addresses trafficking in persons is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and it has been reauthorized four times since its inception.

The goal of this act is to prevent trafficking, protect those who are at risk, and to prosecute traffickers.

It also defines trafficking and makes it a crime in and of itself. This act identifies the means often used to traffick victims and defines terms associated with trafficking.

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was passed in 2015. It is designed to aid victims of trafficking. It set up an Advisory Council. Highlights include:

  • Created criminal liability for buyers of trafficked individuals,
  • Created a fund for victim assistance,
  • Child trafficking deterrence programs,
  • Training for first responders, and
  • Added trafficking and child pornography to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act as child abuse.

Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act

The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014 was written for youth involved in the foster care system. It is designed to help victims in the foster care system by

  • Requiring screening,
  • Better identification,
  • More thorough reporting,
  • Missing persons reports,
  • and services to victims.


Jeffrey Epstein’s case makes clear how far our federal laws have to go before they can be enforced against the rich and powerful.

Though our federal laws are harsh, they must be able to be used before our country’s most vulnerable citizens can be protected.

Are you or is a loved one is being investigated for federal sex trafficking? It is critical that an experienced federal criminal attorney is obtained. Sex crimes are often complex. We will work diligently for the best possible outcome in your case.