Virginia Needs to Adopt the Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking

by James C. Sherlock

Seldom can we mitigate bad problems with solutions that work and are handed us on a platter. But we can do that in Virginia in the case of human trafficking.

The Department of Justice defines human trafficking as follows:

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used.

The last time we had good numbers on arrests only, there were 5,000 arrests related to suspected trafficking in Virginia between 2012 and 2019.  Yet even now, the Commonwealth’s Trafficking Coordinator wrote at the end of last year that nearly all of the charges have been brought against buyers and sellers of prostitution, not traffickers.

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC), established in 1892, provides states with non-partisan legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.

It has since 2013 offered the Uniform Act on the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking (Uniform Act). This act has been adopted by at least nine states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While Governor Youngkin signed a spate of new laws in June of this year, a big improvement, Virginia laws on human trafficking remain scattered all over the Code of Virginia.  The only Virginia law against it is § 18.2-355. The laws remain woefully inadequate.

The Uniform Act is ready to submit. Both parties in the General Assembly should sponsor it and adopt it unanimously in the upcoming session.

I do not know why Virginia has not moved forward with the Uniform Act.

If I were to guess, the reason is inertia.

The Uniform Act penalizes both traffickers and patrons and protects the victims in a single integrated law.

The offenses in the Uniform Act are:

  • Trafficking an individual
  • Forced labor
  • Sexual servitude
  • Patronizing a victim of sexual servitude
  • Patronizing a minor for commercial sexual activity
  • Business entity liability
  • Aggravating circumstance

The penalties, in addition to incarceration for the offenses listed, can include restitution and forfeiture. It provides for an affirmative defense of the victim against charges of prostitution.

There is a long list of other victim protection measures, including eligibility for benefits or services. The only benefit Virginia offers to the victims of trafficking is in-state tuition, and that just went into effect this year.

Here is the Uniform Act. Look at that compared to Code of Virginia § 18.2-355 and you will see that the Virginia law is woefully lacking in specificity.

The Virginia law uses the term “against his or her will” without specifying what that means.  The Uniform Act provides a list of specific violations that would seem far easier to prove, and thus to prosecute.

The Virginia DCJS Trafficking Coordinator’s Annual Report from 2021 has additional recommendations that require legislation.

I hope that legislators from both parties will carry the Uniform Act as amended by those recommendations.

It is ready to submit, and it is the right thing to do.

Updated Nov 2 at 17:385

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24 responses to “Virginia Needs to Adopt the Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    How big of a problem is human trafficking in Virginia? It sounds awful but I can’t really think of any cases being prosecuted in the press.

    1. William O'Keefe Avatar
      William O’Keefe

      Virginia is something like number 7 in the US in terms of human trafficking. It is a big problem.

      1. how_it_works Avatar

        Any particular counties where the problem is acute?

        1. William O'Keefe Avatar
          William O’Keefe

          Look at all those on the I-95 corridor. The Richmond area is a problem.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      where is it being prosecuted in Virginia and by who?

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        That same report indicated that even now, nearly all of the charges have been brought against buyers and sellers of prostitution, not traffickers.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Between 2012 and 2019 we had between 600 and 1,000 arrests for this crime annually in Virginia. Over 5,000 in seven years.

      “Human trafficking within the Commonwealth of Virginia is a serious and ongoing issue. The actual size of this issue is currently almost impossible to quantify. There are no central reporting mechanisms within the Commonwealth for localities to report occurrences of human trafficking. The data that we do have comes from legal cases and prosecutions; however, many cases are never reported to law-enforcement. This means that many human trafficking cases are unaccounted. Some individual agencies and service providers keep statistics; however, they are only representative of the population served by that agency.”

      The laws that the Governor signed did not fix that. He established a new Commission on Human Trafficking Prevention and Survivor Support. They can bring him this bill to sponsor.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Does that include all missing children in the estimate?

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          No, arrests only. These are the accused perps that were caught.

    4. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      A report at the end of last year indicated that even now, nearly all of the charges have been brought against buyers and sellers of prostitution, not traffickers.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        But buying or selling prostitution isn’t necessarily human trafficking, is it? A woman who willingly works for an escort service may be breaking the law but the person running the escort service isn’t engages in human trafficking. Of are they?

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          No. I don’t have statistics other than those provided by the state.

          I will make a guess and say that among the included charges in those arrests were human trafficking, but the ones that were prosecuted/pled were prostitution only.

          Our law on human trafficking is weak.

          I suspect that the clause “against his or her will” in the specifications of the offense in our current law may make it hard to prove. He says she says.

          “Coercion” is defined with eight different specific instantiations in the Uniform Act.

          (2) “Coercion” means:

          A) the use or threat of force against, abduction of, serious harm to, or physical restraint of, an individual;
          (B) the use of a plan, pattern, or statement with intent to cause an individual to believe that failure to perform an act will result in the use of force against, abduction of, serious harm to, or physical restraint of, an individual;
          (C) the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process;
          (D) controlling or threatening to control an individual’s access to a controlled substance as defined in [insert the appropriate state code sections defining controlled substances];
          (E) the destruction or taking of or the threatened destruction or taking of an individual’s identification document or other property;
          (F) the use of debt bondage;
          (G) the use of an individual’s physical or mental impairment when the impairment has a substantial adverse effect on the individual’s cognitive or volitional function; or
          (H) the commission of civil or criminal fraud.

          I suspect it may be easier to tailor the charges under that list to fit the circumstances of the specific crime. The words “against his or her will” are not used.

          That is just a guess on my part, so take it for that.

  2. killerhertz Avatar

    I’m still waiting on Epstein’s black book to be released. That’d be a start!

  3. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    A solid, common sense observation and suggestion. Now if the legislation were adopted by ALEC it might get notice.

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Human trafficking is made easier with nonuniform laws involving human rights. Think race, creed, sex — including gender, and yes, even religion.

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    There is a collective body within the legislative branch called the Commissioners for the Promotion of Uniformity of Legislation. The governor appoints three members. The national Uniform
    Law Commission can appoint life members. Several Virginians have been appointed life members. Together, these individuals, along with the director of the Division of Legislative Services, are the Commonwealth’s representatives at the national conference.

    The Virginia commissioners issue an annual report to the Governor and the General Assembly. I am not familiar with the process,

    but I assume that no uniform act would be passed by the General Assembly without the blessing of this group of commissioners. It is not clear who decides which uniform law gets introduced in any session. In the past, the Commissioners in their annual report made recommendations on what uniform laws should be adopted. See the 1991 report linked below.

    That does not seem to be the case now.

    In the 2021 Session, two different uniform laws were proposed. The General Assembly agreed to one of them but did not pass the other. In the 2022 Session, there was one bill relating to the adoption of a uniform law and it was passed.

    The uniform law on human trafficking certainly seems like a worthy candidate for consideration. Perhaps the folks at the Division of Legislative Services who serve as staff to the Virginia Commissioners for the Promotion of Uniformity of Legislation could shed some light on why it has not been brought up I Virginia.


    Statutory authority:

    Division of Legislative Services website:

    1991 annual report:

    2021 annual report:

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I was hoping you might weigh in with more legislative info. Thanks.

    2. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      Is the CPUL an exclusive avenue to introduce the legislation? Or May it be a simple co-patroned bill?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I’m sorta curious about the whole idea of uniform code legislation.

        Who / what entity develops the “uniform code” that presumably may be followed by states?

        1. James McCarthy Avatar
          James McCarthy

          Google uniform laws. Fascinating history from 1892.

          1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            The annual report that I provided a link to gives a good background explanation of who develops the uniform laws and the intensive process used.

      2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        None of the commissioners are legislators, so they can’t introduce legislation. Any member can introduce a bill to have the Commonwealth adopt a uniform law.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I will send the article to DLS. Thanks. I have already sent it to some people who can introduce it.

  6. StarboardLift Avatar

    In Virginia Beach Samaritan House is building from the ground up a facility for juvenile victims of trafficking (it already operates a home for adult victims). Everyone seems surprised to learn that it’s as common as it is. When the HT Task Force (law enforcement, Homeland Security, support agencies) launched in Hampton Roads in 2017 we anticipated a dozen victims a year. In the first 3 years Samaritan House offered service to 125 HT victims. Prosecuting the traffickers is tough, convicting them is tougher. Victims are often charged and convicted more easily than traffickers. This Uniform Act is a no-brainer–thanks for sharing.

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