International Law and Immigration

Ca. Int'l Law Journal 2016, vol. 24, No. 1

Legislative Strategies for Combatting International Human Trafficking in California

By Catherine L. Carlisle*

Trafficking in persons across international boundaries is a growing humanitarian crisis. The United States as a whole, and California in particular, are prime destinations for international human traffickers and have experienced an increase in both sex and labor trafficking in recent years. In the last fifteen years, much federal and state legislation has been passed in an attempt to address this problem. While this legislation has greatly increased the ability to prosecute traffickers and protect victims, many challenges still remain. This article will provide an overview of international human trafficking with a particular focus on sex trafficking, discuss federal and California legislation targeting this issue and suggest potential strategies to improve California’s response to sex trafficking.


International human trafficking refers to the practice of recruiting and transporting persons across at least one international boundary in order to exploit those persons, typically through forced labor or sexual exploitation.1 Traffickers lure and maintain control of their victims by force or threat of force, coercion, psychological abuse, fraud or deception or abuse of power over vulnerable populations.2 Increasingly, traffickers—especially those involved in cross-border trafficking—are part of lucrative criminal enterprises.3 International human trafficking nets approximately $32 billion per year, and is second only to drug trafficking in profitability.4

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