Human Sex Trafficking: California Law & Civil Liability

Similar to Federal Law, California’s human trafficking law, CA Penal Code § 236, directly addresses sex trafficking and does not require proof of the use of force, fraud, or coercion in the commission of the crime against minors. But unlike the Federal Law, the CA Penal Code § 236 does not specifically include assisting, enabling or benefiting financially – profiting – from human trafficking as prohibited conduct. However, under several Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) laws which specifically address sex trafficking of minors in California, hotel employees and owners may be convicted through the CSEC laws as well.

The hotel or hotel employee may be convicted as a facilitator under CSEC laws in several ways. First, a facilitator may be convicted under Cal. Penal Code § 266h(b) if the facilitator, “knowing another person is a prostitute, lives or derives support or maintenance in whole or in part . . . from money loaned or advanced to or charged against that person by any keeper or manager or inmate of a house or other place where prostitution is practiced or allowed.”  This means hotel owners that receive payment for a hotel room, knowing the room is being used for prostitution, are criminally liable. Second, facilitators may face liability under the human trafficking law if they “cause, induce, or persuade, or attempt to cause, induce, or persuade, a person who is a minor at the time of commission of the offense to engage in a commercial sex act.” Third, Cal. Penal Code § 266 may be used to prosecute a facilitator who “aids or assists in” the “inveiglement or enticement” of “any unmarried female under the age of 18 years into any place “for the purpose of prostitution.” Notice the statute would not require the hotel employee or owner to personally entice the victim to enter into a place or prostitution, only that the they aid or assist in the endeavor.

What Happens If You Are Found to Be Facilitating or Aiding Sex Trafficking?

If found to be a facilitator of human trafficking of children, hotel employees and owners are subject to criminal penalties that are as high as the federal penalties for trafficking a child for sexual exploitation. This means that they may be subject to fines up to $500,000, and in some cases, at the court’s discretion, an additional fine of $1,000,000 may be added as punishment.  Also, if a hotel employee or owner is convicted of any violation of Section 236.1, “the court shall, in addition to any other penalty or restitution, order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim.”  Restitution may include payment for the value of stolen or damaged property, medical expenses of the victim, mental health counseling expenses, wages or profits lost due to injury incurred by the victim, wages or profits lost by the minor’s parents/guardians while caring for the injured minor, wages or profits lost by the victim, wages or profits lost by the minor’s parents/guardians due to time spent as a witness or in assisting the police or prosecution, and non-economic losses, including, but not limited to, psychological harm and expenses reasonably necessary to make the victim whole.

Finally, California Law expressly states that victims of human trafficking may bring a separate civil action against any defendant charged with a violation of California Penal Code § 236.1 “for actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, any combination of those, or any other appropriate relief. A plaintiff who wins may also be awarded attorney’s fees and costs,” in addition to “litigation costs including, but not limited to, expert witness fees and expenses . . .” and “may be awarded up to three times his or her actual damages or ten thousand dollars ($10,000), whichever is greater,” as well as punitive damages. This means that a hotel employee or owner does not have to be convicted of the crime of human trafficking before a civil suit is filed against him, nor is the civil suit dependent on establishing a criminal conviction.

Considering the important role the hospitality industry is expected to play in the fight against human trafficking, and the consequential liability it faces, California is now requiring hotel owners to train their staff to combat human trafficking. Learn more about the Guardian Seal® Training.

The Takeaways:

  • California law does not require proof of the use of force, fraud, or coercion in the commission of the crime against minors because of further CSEC laws that extend liability to Hotels.
  • Simply knowing or believing another person is a prostitute and renting to them anyway, especially if there is a suspicion that that prostitute is a minor, can lead to liability for the hotel employees.
  • Under California law, victims of sex trafficking may bring separate civil suits against any entity that benefited in their exploitation, including hotels.
  • Training has been required in California to address this.