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Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU)

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The term "human trafficking" is used in common parlance to describe many forms of exploitation of human beings. While these words often evoke images of undocumented migrants being smuggled across international borders, the term has a different and highly specific meaning under the United States Criminal Code. Human trafficking crimes, which are defined in Title 18, Chapter 77, focus on the act of compelling or coercing a person's labor, services, or commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological, but it must be used to coerce a victim into performing labor, services, or commercial sex acts. Because these statutes are rooted in the prohibition against slavery and involuntary servitude guaranteed by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Civil Rights Division plays a paramount role in enforcing these statutes, alongside our partners in the United States Attorneys' offices (USAOs) and law enforcement agencies. 

Contrary to some misconceptions, human trafficking crimes do not require any smuggling or movement of the victim. While undocumented migrants can be particularly vulnerable to coercion because of their fear of authorities, traffickers have demonstrated their ability to exploit other vulnerable populations and have preyed just as aggressively on documented guest workers and U.S. citizen children. Indeed, because of the vulnerability of minors, where minors are offered for commercial sex the statutes do not require proof of force, fraud, or coercion. 

The government has successfully prosecuted human trafficking crimes in agricultural fields, sweatshops, suburban mansions, brothels, escort services, bars, and strip clubs. In recent years, because of enhanced criminal statutes, victim-protection provisions, and public awareness programs introduced by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as well as sustained dedication to combating human trafficking, the numbers of trafficking investigations and prosecutions have increased dramatically. This is demonstrated by a 360 percent increase in convictions for the fiscal years 2001-2007 as compared to the previous 7-year period. 

In 2007, the Civil Rights Division created the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU) within the Criminal Section to consolidate the expertise of some of the nation's top human trafficking prosecutors. HTPU prosecutors work closely with Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) and law enforcement agencies to streamline fast-moving trafficking investigations, ensure consistent application of trafficking statutes, and identify multijurisdictional trafficking networks. Human trafficking crimes, like other civil rights crimes, require notification to the Criminal Section pursuant to §§ 8- 3.120 and 8-3.140 of the U.S. Attorneys' Manual. Early notification of any case with potential human trafficking angles allows the HTPU to provide victim assistance resources, legal guidance, and coordination between districts prosecuting overlapping criminal networks on a timely basis. 

The Bureau of Justice Assistance has also funded 42 Human Trafficking Task Forces to bring together federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities, government agencies, and nongovernmental victim-service providers in a multidisciplinary approach to identify human trafficking crimes, assist human trafficking victims, and prosecute human trafficking cases. 

Recent Developments

The Department of Justice is deeply committed to combating labor trafficking, assisting its victims, and prosecuting its perpetrators. Our human trafficking enforcement programs, and specifically our labor trafficking program, have never been stronger. In the past three fiscal years from 2009 to 2011, the Department brought an average of 24 forced labor cases annually, more than doubling the average of 11 cases brought annually over the prior 3-year period from 2006 to 2008. >We are continuing to identify and successfully prosecute significant labor trafficking cases, ranging from single-victim domestic servitude cases to prosecutions that dismantle transnational organized criminal networks.

  • In recent months we have convicted labor traffickers who exploited victims in restaurants, bars, and cantinas on Long Island, New York, and in massage parlors in Chicago, Illinois.
  • We convicted a Seattle couple who held a young Micronesian woman in domestic servitude, and secured a 14-month sentence against a defendant who held two young Nigerian women in domestic servitude in Georgia.
  • We have indicted labor traffickers who exploited Vietnamese victims in bridal shops in Arizona, and we have dismantled organized criminal networks that held Dominican, Filipino, and Jamaican workers in forced labor on cleaning crews.

We are continuing to strengthen our partnerships with the Department of Labor and other entities (ICE, FBI) to identify and develop more labor trafficking cases through our inter-agency Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team Initiative.

These partnerships have proven effective; results include a domestic servitude conviction that resulted in payment of $80,000 in restitution to two Filipina victims in Kansas City, Missouri, and an indictment charging ten defendants in a combined forced labor and sex trafficking scheme in El Paso, Texas.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband Delivered Remarks at the National Human Trafficking Summit   May 07, 2019

Attorney General Eric Holder's Remarks on National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month   January 29, 2015

Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates's Remarks on National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month   January 29, 2015

Mexican National Sentenced to 15 Years for Participating in a Brutal Family Run Sex Trafficking Organization   January 26, 2015

Two Mexican Nationals Sentenced for Sex Trafficking Offenses   January 22, 2015

Jury Convicts Three Gang Members And A Former El Paso County Juvenile Probation Officer Of Federal Sex Trafficking Charges   January 20, 2015

Three Mexican Brothers Plead Guilty To Sex Trafficking And Sex Trafficking Conspiracy   January 15, 2015

El Paso Couple Sentenced To Federal Prison For Inducing Foreign Or Interstate Travel For Prostitution   January 06, 2015

El Paso Man Sentenced To Life In Federal Prison On Human Trafficking Charges   September 03, 2014

Ringleader Of El Paso And Baltimore-based Federal Human Trafficking Investigation Sentenced To 17 1/2 Years In Federal Prison   November 13, 2014

Attorney General's Annual Report to Congress on U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons   2020

AG remarks at the National Conference on Human Trafficking   May 3, 2010

AAG remarks at the National Conference on Human Trafficking   May 3, 2010

AAG remarks at the Freedom Network Conference   March 17, 2010


The Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division provides services to victims of civil rights violations, including human trafficking. Victim/Witness Coordinators are available to provide assistance with accessing services such as case management, housing, medical care, counseling and shelter. As mandated by the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance (2005), all victims of federal crime are entitled to certain rights under the law. These rights include:


  1. The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.
  2. The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused.
  3. The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding.
  4. The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, [or] sentencing, or any parole proceeding.
  5. The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.
  6. The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law.
  7. The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.
  8. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.

Furthermore, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000), victims of human trafficking are eligible for certain forms of immigration relief. A Victim/Witness Coordinator can assist with information on these services. 

For more information on victim/witness rights, see the full text of the Attorney General Guidelines here: and the full text of the TVPA here: 

A Criminal Section Victim/Witness Coordinator can also provide assistance in navigating the federal legal system. 

If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.  The National Human Trafficking Resource Center is a national, toll-free hotline available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center is not a law enforcement or immigration authority and is operated by a nongovernmental organization funded by the Federal government. To get help, click on the link above, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888, or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733).

Human Trafficking Resources for Victims: 

Trafficking Statutes

  • 18 U.S.C. § 1581 (Peonage)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1584 (Involuntary Servitude)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1589 (Forced Labor)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1590 (Trafficking with Respect to Peonage, Slavery, Involuntary Servitude, or Forced Labor)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1591 (Sex Trafficking of Children or by Force, Fraud, or Coercion)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1592 (Unlawful Conduct with Respect to Documents in Furtherance of Trafficking, Peonage, Slavery, Involuntary Servitude, or Forced Labor)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1593 (Mandatory Restitution)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1594 (Attempt and Forfeiture)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1595 (Private Right of Action)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2423 (Transportation of Minors into Prostitution)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1546 (Visa Fraud)

Detailed information on the statutes can be read here.

DOJ Partners

Bureau of Justice Assistance
Department of Justice, Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section
Department of Justice, National Criminal Justice Reference Service
Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime
Department of Justice, Office of Legal Policy 

Interagency Partners

Blue Campaign | Homeland Security (
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons - United States Department of State 
Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) | The Administration for Children and Families ( in Persons | U.S. Department of Labor (


Updated May 22, 2023