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Sex Trafficking Human Trafficking

Sex Trafficking & Human Trafficking in Los Angeles

Human Trafficking (“Sex Trafficking”) (California Penal Code section 236.1), aka “human sex trafficking”, is a crime that involves you (allegedly) forcing someone to perform labor or services – sexual or otherwise — through force, coercion, violence, threats of imminent harm or future retaliation, or under duress.

This body of criminal offenses typically, though certainly not always, involve the commercial/financial exploitation of the victim – male or female, adult or minor – for sexual purposes. (Occasionally, however, the victim will be someone – typically an undocumented immigrant – who is forced to perform labor for little or no money.)

You can also be charged with this crime if you supplied or otherwise provided the victim for someone else’s sexual gratification – in addition or in alternative to your own – even if you received no financial remuneration or consideration.

Whatever the specifics of the underlying act(s), this crime is always charged as a felony with significant prison time upon conviction and possible lifetime sex registration (see below).

It should come as no surprise, then, that law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles County prioritize investigating and prosecuting trafficking offenses. For example, the DA’s Office’s Human Trafficking Unit exclusively focuses its efforts on going after these types of offenders.

Similarly, the LAPD has its own Human Trafficking Unit. In addition, the District Attorney’s Office provides resources such as its Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program.

Notably, according to the DA’s Office, sex trafficking is the number-two criminal enterprise in SoCal (second only to drug dealing).

California Statutes – Sex Crimes – Sex Trafficking/Human Trafficking

California Penal Code section 236.1(a) – Human Trafficking

If you deprive or violate someone’s liberty/freedom for the purpose of obtaining his/her forced labor or services, then you can be prosecuted under this particular statutory provision. Penal Code section 236.1(a).

California Penal Code section 236.1(b) – Sex Trafficking

Pursuant to Pen. Code section 236.1(b), the punishment for a conviction hereunder becomes far more severe (see below) if you deprived or violated the victim’s liberty or freedom for purposes that would constitute violations of the following Penal Code sections (which are themselves charged as felonies):

Penal Code section 266

You enticed or conned a minor female into engaging in prostitution or to have sexual relations with an adult male, or you assisted or aided in the main perpetrator in doing so.

Penal Code section 266h

You engaged in “pimping”, i.e., you earned money from a prostitute’s sexual services.

Penal Code section 266i

You tricked, deceived, threatened, or used force or violence against the victim to convince them to engage in prostitution.

Penal Code section 266j

You willfully transported, provided, or otherwise made available – or offered to do so – a victim 15 years old or younger so he/she could engage in a lewd act (see Penal Code section 288). Alternatively, you caused, induced, or otherwise persuaded the same victim to do so with a third party.

Penal Code section 267

You took away without legal consent a minor from his/her parent or legal guardian/custodian so the victim could engage in prostitution.

Penal Code section 311.1

For the purpose of distributing or selling child pornography (see California Penal Code section 311.4), you intentionally sent, caused to be sent, brought or caused to be brought into California – or produced, published, filmed, developed, duplicated, or printed such material.

Penal Code section 311.2


Penal Code section 311.3

You sexually exploited a minor for the purpose of producing or otherwise engaging in child pornography.

Penal Code section 311.4

You knowingly hired, employed, or utilized a victim under age 18 for the purpose of engaging in child pornography.

Penal Code section 311.5

You wrote, created, or solicited materials that published, publicized, distributed, advertised, promoted, exhibited, or sold obscene material.

Penal Code section 311.6

You intentionally engaged or participated in, managed, produced, sponsored, presented, or exhibited lewd or lascivious activities before a live crowd (or even a single person) in a public setting (and not necessarily for profit).

Penal Code section 518

You obtained someone’s money, property, or other item of value by using force or threats – i.e., via extortion.

California Penal Code section 236.1(c) – Sex Trafficking a Minor

The punishment becomes greater still if you caused, induced, or persuaded a minor — or attempted to do so – to commit any of the activities described in the preceding subsection.

California Penal Code section 236.1(d) & (i) – Totality of Circumstances in Determining Guilt

In determining guilt, the jury must take a totality-of-circumstances approach in deciding whether human/sex trafficking occurred, including but not limited to considering:

  1. The victim’s age;
  2. the victim’s relationship, if any, to you;
  3. whether he/she was physically or mentally disabled.

Finally, the California legislature has adopted the same definition of “human trafficking” as that set forth in Title 22 of the federal United States Code section 7102(9) (“22 U.S. Code § 7102(9)”). See Penal Code section 236.1(g).

Criminal Defense

Defenses to Sex Crimes Charges — Sex Trafficking/Human Trafficking

According to the California Judicial Council’s Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”), the following are complete defenses unless otherwise noted – i.e., “mitigation” indicates that you will likely be charged with a lesser crime:

  1. the purported victim is an adult (mitigation);
  2. he/she – as an adult – willfully chose to enter into prostitution on his/her own accord;
  3. when you commit the act(s), you didn’t intend to force or otherwise have him/her perform labor or services;
  4. you attempted to restrain the victim’s liberty for that purpose but was unsuccessful (mitigation);
  5. the purported victim never believed you could actually carry out your threat;
  6. alternatively, he/she did believe you were capable of doing so but was unreasonable in that belief (i.e., no reasonable person would have believed you were so capable);
  7. you never actually intended to persuade or force the purported victim into performing any sex act, much less one for commercial or public purposes;
  8. you did intend to do so but not for financial remuneration or other consideration (mitigation).

See CALCRIM number 1243 (“Human Trafficking — Pen. Code § 236.1(a) & (b)”); and

CALCRIM number 1244 (“Causing Minor to Engage in Commercial Sex Act — Pen. Code § 236.1(c)”).

In addition, the defenses that would apply to all of the above-described underlying sex crimes would also apply to a trafficking charge in regard thereto.

Keep in mind, however, that a minor can never legally consent in California.

Finally, even if you absolutely and reasonably believed the victim was an adult, you can still be prosecuted for Sex Trafficking or Human Trafficking. In other words, “mistake of fact” is not a viable defense thereto.

(This is not the case in regard to other sex crimes involving minors such as Unlawful Consensual Sex with a Minor (“Statutory Rape”) (California Penal Code section 261.5).

Sex Crimes Convictions – Sex Trafficking/Human Trafficking

California Penal Code section 236.1(a) – Human Trafficking

A conviction hereunder will get you a low, mid, or high prison term of five, eight, or twelve years, plus a fine of up to half a million dollars(!).

California Penal Code section 236.1(b) – Sex Trafficking

This particular conviction comes with a range of eight, fourteen, or twenty years in a state penitentiary, as well as the up-to-$500,000 fine.

California Penal Code section 236.1(c) – Sex Trafficking a Minor

Range: 5, eight, or twelve years in a penitentiary, plus the up-to-$500,000 fine. Penal Code section 236.1(c)(1).

However, if you used force, threats, etc., then you’ll get fifteen-years-to-life plus the up-to-a-half-million-dollars fine. Pen. Code section 236.1(c)(2).

Sex Crimes Convictions – Sex Trafficking/Human Trafficking — Sentencing Enhancements

Some of the above-described sex crimes will be charged as a Strike Offense (California Penal Code section 667(a)&(b)) and California Penal Code section 1192.7.

This means that if you’ve previously been convicted of at least one Strike offense, i.e., either a “violent felony” or a “serious felony” as defined in Penal Code § 667.5 & Penal Code § 1192.7, respectively, then whatever prison term you receive for the current trafficking conviction will increase by five years, will be doubled, or will result in a 25-years-to-life sentence, depending on the these prior convictions.

More specifically, if you used violence or threats to commit one of the underlying charges, then you may receive these Strike enhancements. For example, Extortion (California Penal Code section 518) is considered a “Violent-Felony Strike” pursuant to Penal Code § 667.5(19).

See also CALCRIM number 3184 (“Sex Offenses: Sentencing Factors—Using Force or Fear to Cause Minor to Engage in Commercial Sex Act — Pen. Code § 236.1(c)(2)”).

Sex Crimes – Registration Requirements — Sex Trafficking/Human Trafficking

Just as with Strikes, many of the above-described underlying sex crimes are considered to be registerable offenses pursuant to California’s Sex Offender Registration law (California Penal Code section 290).

This means that every year – no more than five days after your birthday – for how ever many years you are required to register (see below), you’ll have to provide your local LAPD precinct or LASD station with your personal info, such as your place of employment and residence.

If you don’t you’ll be charged with a separate felony. See Sex Offender Registration Act: Penalties for Violation (California Penal Code section 290.018).

And, of course, you’ll be available for anyone to look up on California’s Megan’s Law website. For example, the following are considered “Tier One” registerable offenses, which mandate a 10-year registration period:

Enticing a Minor into Engaging in Prostitution (California Penal Code section 266); and

Child Pornography (California Penal Code section 311.1);

Tier Two offenses come with mandatory registration for 20 years. Tier Three entail lifetime registration, and such offenses include the following:

Sex Trafficking of Minors (California Penal Code section 236.1(c));

Pimping Minors (California Penal Code section 266h);

Pandering Minors (California Penal Code section 266i);

Procuring or Transporting a Minor Under Sixteen for a Lewd or Lascivious Purpose (California Penal Code section 266j); and

Taking a Child Away to Engage in Prostitution (California Penal Code section 267).

Examples of Sex Crimes – Sex Trafficking/Human Trafficking

Pomona motel clerk pleads no contest to trafficking minors for commercial exploitation

On August 7, 2018, Pomona PD and the DA’s Office’s Bureau of Investigation launched a joint investigation into reports that sex trafficking and other prostitution crimes were occurring at a particular motel in Pomona.

As part of this operation, Pomona PD placed an undercover officer at the scene, which apparently resulted in the motel’s clerk, Mr. Ravirajsihn Zala (age 23) being arrested for allegedly accepting money as a percentage of earnings from prostitutes who rented rooms there by the hour. Specifically, he was charged with the following felonies:

two counts of Human Trafficking of a Minor for a Commercial Sex Act (California Penal Code section 236.1(c)); and

two counts of “Pimping” (California Penal Code section 266h).

Maximum possible sentence: fourteen and three-quarters years in a state penitentiary.


Two years and three months later (in early Nov. 2020), Zala accepted a nolo contendre plea to a single felony count of Human Trafficking of a Minor for a Commercial Sex Act. As a result, he was sentenced to eighteen days in jail, 60 months’ formal probation, sixty hours’ volunteer work, and lifetime registration. (It remains unclear whether he had been incarcerated during those 27 months, and why it took so long for him to accept a plea.)


Reputed gang member gets a total of almost 300 years in prison for trafficking minors

During a four-year period (Aug. 2011 until Aug. 2015), alleged gang member Raylonzo Roberts (36 at the beginning of this period) allegedly posted online ads through which he recruited girls as young as thirteen from LA and San Bernardino counties to engage in prostitution in South LA and Long Beach motels.

He was alleged to have used violence against at least several of the girls, including at least once for leaving him for another sex trafficker, and at least once for not turning in enough cash to him. LAPD and Long Beach PD jointly investigated him for seven months before arresting him.

The DA’s Office charged him with over a dozen felony counts of Human Trafficking of a Minor for a Commercial Sex Act (California Penal Code section 236.1(c));

Lewd Acts with a Minor Child Under 14 (California Penal Code section 288); and

“Pandering” of a Minor (California Penal Code section 266i).

For reasons that remain unclear, Roberts was tried in two separate trials regarding separate incidents and victims. The first trial ended in Dec. 2016, where the jury convicted him of two counts of sex trafficking a minor. As a result, he was given a sixteen-year prison sentence.

In the second trial, he was convicted in October 2018 of almost a dozen counts of Human Trafficking of a Minor. On December 3, 2018, he received a sentence of two hundred and eighty-one years in a state penitentiary.


Two alleged gang members are sentenced to prison for forcing a woman and a girl into prostitution

In 2015, alleged LA gang member Robert J. King (22) allegedly met a young woman (twenty) over social media. Approximately eight weeks later, he allegedly lured her to Long Beach, where he apparently threatened her with a firearm and immediately forced her to engage in prostitution.

(It remains unclear how long he allegedly forced her to do so – i.e., whether or not this was a one-night occurrence.)

Around that same time in 2015, King’s alleged fellow gang member, James Mark (twenty-four), allegedly made the acquaintance of a female minor (age fifteen) in an LA park and thereafter forced her at gunpoint to also engage in prostitution in Long Beach. (Again, it remains unclear as to how long this allegedly went on for.)

As a result, both men were arrested by Long Beach PD and charged with a variety of felony sex crimes.

On January 24, 2018, King accepted a nolo contendre plea to a single count of Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Committing Another Felony (California Penal Code section 236.1).

In addition, King accepted the same plea to a special Gang Enhancement (California Penal Code section 186.22). Specifically, he admitted to engaging in human trafficking for the benefit of his street gang. Similarly, Mark accepted a nolo contendre plea to Human Trafficking a Minor for a Commercial Sex Act.

As a result, on or about Feb. 21, 2018, King received twenty-three years and Mark half-a-dozen years in a state penitentiary. In addition, they were both required to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives, pursuant to California Penal Code section 290.