August 2015, United States District Court for the District of Maryland (Baltimore) – In an outrageous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, dismissed a pimp’s fire arm conviction for “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence” because it has determined that sex trafficking is NOT a crime of violence and “because sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion can never satisfy § 924(c)(3)’s definition of a crime of violence..”. Appellate Ruling No. 13-4755
Sex Trafficking IS a crime of violence and involves receiving a profit from the sexual exploitation of human beings, including children. The response of the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court places victims of sex trafficking and other violent crimes at greater risk by refusing to acknowledge the brutality of these crimes; and thereby giving perpetrators a lighter sentence than they deserve.
The ruling was made despite evidence and testimony that the pimps Kevin Fuertes and German de Jesus Ventura ran a brothel in a Hispanic neighborhood in Annapolis, Maryland. Competitors were threatened with violence. The men are suspects in the 2008 murder of a competitor, and in the brutal beating of another competitor.
My thoughts after reading the ruling is that the Fourth Circuit Court did not view this case as “sex trafficking” but rather assumed the victim willingly entered into prostitution, which was also referred to in the ruling as the “sex trade”. The word “trade” implies the sexual act is not only done with consent but is a “trade” made among equals.
According to the Fourth Circuit ruling, “..we conclude that the conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence was erroneous because, we hold, sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a), is not categorically a crime of violence…”
SO if sex trafficking is not a crime of violence, what is it?
Section 924 (c)(3) defines a “crime of violence” as “an offense that is a felony and—(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” ALL of these elements are involved in sex trafficking.
A victim’s efforts to escape sex trafficking are often challenged by further acts of violence and intimidation, and a countless number of are murdered. The efforts of these victims to escape, and to file criminal charges is heroic.
Very few victims of sex trafficking actually make reports, and this ruling may deter other victims from coming forward because the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court has failed to recognize the brutality behind sex trafficking and instead has implied the victim gave consent to be trafficked, or is somehow at fault for the violence inflicted on her (victim blaming).
The ruling was also made despite testimony from a woman who described being brutally beaten, forced to have sex, and held against her will by German de Jesus Ventura, one of the pimps. During the trial, a physician who examined the woman and did a forensic medical examination, reports, “Dr. — testified that — (the victim’s) explanations as to how she received certain injuries were generally consistent with her own observations during the examination.” The woman also stated that on one occasion the pimps fired a gun in order to intimidate her.
The pimps were also charged with transporting a woman out of state while engaging in the sex trafficking.
The Fourth Circuit Court also found, “..substantial evidence that Fuertes and Ventura forced (the victim)—a young woman illegally present in the country with no English skills and a third-grade education—into prostitution..”
However, according to the Fourth Circuit Court” The evidence of threats and acts of violence was no more “sensational or disturbing” than the sex trafficking crimes with which Fuertes and Ventura were charged...”
How the Fourth Circuit can overlook the violence perpetrated on this victim, and others, due to trafficking is beyond comprehension – and is personally, to me, a concern to the safety and well-being of our community, and society, is at risk by judges who hold positions of power, and are not held accountable when their actions and rulings pose a danger to individuals, and the greater society as a whole.
Let’s be clear – Sex trafficking is not consensual – it is slavery, and involves torture, abuse and intimidation in order to get victims to comply.
In a 2012 speech delivered to the UN General Assembly Interactive Dialouge, Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Director & Former President of Chile says, “It is difficult to think of a crime more hideous and shocking than human trafficking. Yet it is one of the fastest growing and lucrative crimes. And an estimated 80 percent of those trafficked are used and abused as sexual slaves.This human rights violation is driven by the demand for sexual services and the profit they generate; the commodification of human beings as sexual objects..”
Michelle Bachelet says that human rights and justice for victims must be put first in efforts to end trafficking, and to protect victims. The law should work to penalize the traffickers and their clients – not the victims. Fighting Human Trafficking: Partnership and Innovation to End Violence against Women
The Fourth Circuit ruling also contradicts a 2001 study done by the U.S. Department of Justice found that physical violence “was an intrinsic part” of sex trafficking.
A jury did convict Appellants Kevin Garcia Fuertes and German de Jesus Ventura of a number of sex trafficking and related offenses. The firearm conviction would have brought an additional 5 years to the sentence, if not overturned in appellate court.
For More Information on This Ruling and It’s Impact Please Read: U.S. Judge Rules Sexual Trafficking Is Not a Violent Crime (Andrew Mark Bennett, The Daily Beast)