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Civil Legal Needs

Trafficking victims have a wide range of civil legal needs, depending on their personal circumstances and the trafficking situation they endured. Some will need only limited legal services for a short period of time, while others will have multiple legal issues that may last for many years.

Legal services partners might include domestic violence agencies that provide legal representation, general legal aid agencies, law school clinical programs, specialized legal service organizations, such as those that focus on specific legal issues (immigration, employment, or family law) or specific populations (children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer [LGBTQ] populations, or people with disabilities), and public defenders or other criminal defense providers.

Legal issues commonly presented by trafficking victims include immigration or repatriation, family law, and public benefits access.

Civil litigation. Some trafficking survivors may file their own civil lawsuits against their traffickers or those involved in the trafficking operation. This may include charges of human trafficking, violations of labor and employment laws, violations of contracts, and other violations of civil law. These actions may help survivors obtain greater damages, and when criminal charges cannot be filed, pursuing a case as the plaintiff in a civil suit can help survivors reverse their victim status and feel in charge of their lives once again.

Family law. Victims might want a Protection or Restraining Order to order the trafficker to stay away from the victim and/or to return the victim’s possessions. These orders may be included in any criminal proceeding, but victims may need to seek a civil order while the case is pending or when there is no criminal case. Victims, particularly those who are related to their traffickers, may need assistance with separation, divorce, child custody and support, guardianship, or adoption. Even the strongest families can be irreparably damaged by the trafficking experience and may need legal resolution.

Tool: Check out the Employment Law Guide: Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay. It outlines standards for minimum wages, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor.

Employment law. Trafficking victims may also have also been subject to violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires the payment of minimum wage and overtime to covered, non-exempt workers.  Trafficking victims may also have claims under state or local minimum wage laws or contract law. Victims may have been subjected to harassment or discrimination in their workplace and need assistance in filing a complaint with the Equal

Employment Opportunity Commission. The Department of Labor investigates workplaces for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and may encounter potential trafficking victims during the course of an investigation, at which time it would refer the case to an appropriate law enforcement agency.  The Department of Labor is sometimes asked by law enforcement agencies to assist in calculating restitution owed to victims.

There are many local and state employment laws that may be stronger than federal labor laws. Consider encouraging experienced labor and employment law professionals and non-profit legal services to help trafficking survivors file and pursue civil suits that involve accommodation issues, sexual harassment and discrimination, wage and hour violations, worker’s compensation, disability rights, and immigration issues.

 Additional Resource: OVC TTAC’s webinar Civil Legal Remedies and Criminal Restitution for Human Trafficking Victims focuses on what civil legal remedies are available to human trafficking survivors through state and federal laws, the criminal restitution available at the federal level, and offers tips on how to advocate for these types of remedies.

Public benefits access. Trafficking survivors may be eligible for a wide range of federally and locally funded public benefits, but usually need assistance to access these benefits. The services available to them may depend on their income, legal status, marital status, age, criminal record, and other factors. Public benefits offices may not be familiar with human trafficking and may not apply the appropriate criteria for assessing eligibility. Sometimes receiving monetary awards from a successfully settled civil suit or criminal restitution case can make survivors ineligible for public benefits. Trafficking survivors should receive help from benefits attorneys to structure their money damages properly.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 4.4 Legal Services.