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Human Trafficking Legislation – A Brief Overview

By Christine Marie 
With NXIVM appearing in worldwide news related to human trafficking, I would like to share some background of important trafficking legislation to help people analyze some nuances in regards to where this case may be heading.
In the year 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (also known as the TVPA, or Trafficking in Persons Protocol). The U.S. Department of Justice stated that with the enactment of the TVPA, “the U.S. Government was equipped with new tools and resources to mount a comprehensive and coordinated campaign to eliminate modern forms of slavery domestically and internationally.”  Source

The TVPA defines Trafficking in Persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

The TVPA defined the term ‘commercial sex act’ means any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person. Source  However, sex trafficking involves some form of forced or coerced sexual exploitation that is notlimited to prostitution. Source

Is the requirement to produce personally compromising photos (pornography) a form of sexual exploitation? Lawmakers would argue yes, yes, yes! Human trafficking is about more than enforced prostitution.

One powerful strength of the TVPA was that it enabled law enforcement to consider the plight of those who were manipulated through more subtle, psychological means. Prior to this, the word ‘force’ was the primary legal weapon used to prove human trafficking, but force was considered to be physical in nature, i.e. kidnapping, chains, locked rooms, physical beatings. However, most human trafficking is not achieved through physical force, but rather, through psychological manipulation, or coercion. That is why so many human trafficking victims do not initially identify themselves as victims, but I’ll delve into that more in Part 3.

Below is a diagram that helps people understand the definition of human trafficking.

When any of the above “means” are used, then “consent” is nullified. This could be problematic for the Raniere defense. Why? Because obviously Raniere covered his tracks by generating consent media.  However, law makers know that those who control the victim, control the consent documents. Every trafficker in the world would be beyond the reach of the law if they simply coerce the victim to make documents, photographs that look happy, and videos expressing consent.

This is why CONSENT IS IRRELEVANT in human trafficking law if any of the means are used.

The TVPA was updated and reauthorized several times, and I highlighted some goodies in the 2008 reauthorization act that may apply to Raniere/NXIVM/DOS.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008

The TVPRA 2008 further improved the tools available to hold traffickers accountable by:

    • Creating new crimes that impose appropriately serious penalties on those who obstruct or attempt to obstruct the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes;
    • Permitting prosecution of sex traffickers who recklessly disregard the fact that force, fraud, or coercion would be used against the victim;
    • Eliminating the requirement to prove the defendant knew a sex trafficking victim was a minor in cases where the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the minor;
    • Expanding the crime of forced labor by providing that “force” includes the abuse or threatened abuse of legal process;
    • Imposing criminal liability on those who, knowingly and with intent to defraud, recruit workers from outside the United States for employment within the United States by making materially false or fraudulent representations;
    • Increasing the penalty for conspiring to commit trafficking-related crimes;
  • Penalizing those who knowingly benefit financially from participating in a venture that engaged in trafficking crimes.Source

Uh oh. This could spell more trouble for the NXIVM camp.

More good news for survivors though. The TVPA recognizes that traffickers use psychological means as well as physical bondage, and it defines coercion to include: threats of serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process. (Serious harm includes harm to reputation, harm to career, not just physical harm.) With the example of legal retaliation and professional sabotage perpetrated against our favorite NXIVM dissenters and whistleblowers, legal retaliation was surely in the forefront of the minds of the DOS victims. (Barbara Bouchey alone had to suffer through 800 legal filings totaling over 100,000 pages of court documents from retaliatory lawsuits in 4 states. Add to this what NXIVM did to Frank Parlato, Susan Dones, Toni Natali and others, and I would dare say the fear of legal retaliation for the women faced with the “choice” of joining DOS was very real. What would the consequences be if they dissented, or did not join DOS and displeased the master and his Bottom?)

And by the way, I am not talking about his literal bottom.

The Bottom

A ‘Bottom,’ or ‘Bottom Girl,’ is a favored female appointed by the trafficker/pimp to supervise the others and report rule violations. The Bottom recruits others and tries to help the “family” and the “organization” grow. The Bottom is the operational right hand of the trafficker, and she may train victims, collect money, or inflict punishments on other girls. If it turns out the Raniere is convicted of trafficking, Allison Mack’s role may well be defined as a Bottom Girl.  Bottom girls generally start out as victims, and there is a complicated overlap between victimization and exploitation. Due to the victimization path to becoming a perpetrator, anti-trafficking activists tend to have more compassion for the bottom girl than the members of the general public. I cannot comment on Allison Mack’s pathway or perpetration. I would not be surprised, however, to find yet another shocking story emerge.

“The duties of the bottom girl are clear, but for some it’s difficult to comprehend. Her responsibilities to the pimp make it easy for our society and judicial system to see her as criminal instead of a victim.  She is beaten, threatened, and forced to exert the same level of exploitation and coercion as the pimp, contributing to her dual role as victim and exploiter. The authority given to her in the pimp’s absence comes with great accountability. To whom much is given much is required.”  Source

TVPRA Gets More Teeth

As the U.S. continues to progress in its fight against human trafficking, legislation continues to be updated.

In 2013, the TVPRA amended the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act to include labor contract fraud. Does this apply to NXIVM?In 2015, the TVPRA was amended to “direct any assets forfeited in a human trafficking case to be used to satisfy a victim restitution order. It further allows forfeiture of, for example, any asset that is involved in, or is traceable to the proceeds of, human trafficking.”  Source

Will this apply to the DOS/Raniere/Mack victims if a trafficking conviction is achieved?  If you ask me, it seems inevitable. This could be great news for the survivors.

Educate Yourself

To see an expanded legislative history of federal trafficking law in the U.S., click here.

New York Legal Statutes are HERE

Stay Tuned for Part 3!


Christine Marie Katas, MBA, PhD ABD, Media Psychology Using media and technology for good and for growth
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