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Human Trafficking Law & Defense

PC 236.1

California law prohibiting human trafficking can be found at Penal Code section 236.1. Human trafficking is defined as the illegal trade in human beings for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor.

Sex Trafficking: Commercial sex trafficking, or sexual exploitation means receiving anything of value from the forced sexual conduct of another person. 


Force means physical force, threats of force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or person related to the victim. Whether the use of force is used is based on the reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances standard, meaning that under the circumstances a reasonable person would believe that the person making the threat would likely carry it out.

Sex trafficking usually occurs in strip clubs, brothels, and massage parlors, but online escort services, homes, or even street prostitution, can serve as a location for human trafficking crimes.

Labor Trafficking: Labor trafficking, also charged under Penal Code 236.1. Labor trafficking is the act of forcing a person to work for little money, or no money at all. Force is defined  labor trafficking similarly to the definition in sex trafficking (See above). Labor trafficking is common is sweatshops and homes, but can occur in what otherwise appears to be a legitimate businesses.

In order to prove human sex trafficking charged as PC 236.1, the prosecutor must prove:

  • The defendant either deprived another person of personal liberty or violated the person’s personal liberty

  • When the defendant did so, he or she intended to obtain a benefit for sexual services performed by the sex worker (victim)

PC 236.1 Penalties

Human trafficking charges are classified as felonies. The punishment for Human Trafficking can range from probation without jail to life in prison. Below is a list of common human trafficking crimes and associated jail or prison lengths.

PC 236.1(a) Human trafficking of forced labor: Felony charge with a maximum prison sentence of twelve years.

PC 236.1(b) Human trafficking with intent to commit a sex act: Felony charge with a maximum prison sentence of twenty years.

PC 236.1(c)(1) Attempting to, persuading, or causing another person to engage in a commercial sex act as a minor (such as pimping or pandering a minor or causing a minor to engage in prostitution): Felony charge with a maximum prison sentence of twelve years.

PC 236.1(c)(2) Human sex trafficking of minor by force or violence: Felony charge with a maximum prison sentence of fifteen years to life.

Sex offender registration: If found guilty of PC 236.1 (Sex Trafficking) the defendant will be ordered to register as a sex offender with law enforcement (PC 290).

In addition to a possible prison sentence, criminal conviction of PC 236.1 carry other harsh punishments, including: adverse consequences for professional licensees and non-United States citizens, penalty fines (up to $500,000 for PC 236.1(c)(1) and 236.1(c)(2)), restraining orders, possible civil lawsuits, increased penalties for future convictions, restricting probation or parole terms, and more.

Human Trafficking Defense

Lack of Force: Per PC 236.1 the prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to force another person to provide labor or services. Therefore, if the defendant is able to show that he or she did not use force, or did not intend to receive a benefit from the labor or services, the DA will not be able to prove human trafficking. This sometimes occurs in pimping and pandering cases where the DA cannot prove a force element. For example, owners of strip clubs or massage parlors who employ workers who offer sexual services are not necessarily forcing the employees to engage in sex acts.

No Violation of Personal Liberty: To prove a criminal charge of human trafficking pursuant PC 236.1, the prosecution must also prove that the defendant deprived the victim of personal liberty, or violated the victim’s personal liberty. However, if the defendant is able to show that the alleged victim participated in activities of his or her own volition, such that there was no deprivation or violation of personal liberty, the defendant is entitled to an acquittal of the human trafficking charges. For example, pimping by itself does not mean that the pimp (defendant) deprived the liberty of a prostitute by the mere act of being a pimp. Most pimps provide protection and set up meetings for prostitutes with client without any deprivation of liberty to the prostitute.

Other common defenses to human trafficking charges include: procedural defenses, insufficient evidence, mistake of fact, statute of limitations, coerced statements made by the defendant or the sex worker (prostitute), lack of jurisdiction, and more.

To learn more about human trafficking crimes, or California penal code 236.1, including defenses to human trafficking, contact our sex crimes criminal defense attorneys today. Consultations are free and our attorneys are always available to answer your questions.


Related Crimes

  • False Imprisonment PC 236

  • Pimping PC 266h

  • Pandering PC 266i

  • Keeping a house of prostitution PC 315

  • Prostitution PC 647(b)

  • Sale of person for immoral purposes PC 266f

  • Receiving money for forced cohabitation PC 266d

  • Prostituting wife PC 266g

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