71 Am. U. L. Rev. F. 137 (2022).

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The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 provides a civil remedy that permits human trafficking survivors to recover damages from third parties that benefitted from the survivor’s exploitation. This provision is particularly useful for sex trafficking survivors who wish to bring charges against hotels that enabled and profited from their trafficking. However, a district court split has created a discrepancy in the application of this civil protection for survivors against third-party organizations.

Courts have applied two approaches to the civil remedy, which requires the third party to (1) knowingly benefit financially or receive something of value, (2) know or should have known about the nature of the venture, and (3) participate in the venture. Approach I courts have imported standards from the criminal equivalent of the civil remedy and require survivors to prove the underlying criminal case before recovering civilly. In contrast, courts applying Approach II use a negligence standard and view the civil remedy as a standalone claim.

This Comment argues that Approach II is the proper interpretation of the civil statute because conflating the criminal standard is contrary to legislative intent and the plain meaning of the statute. Furthermore, Approach II’s broad scope is essential for survivors to truly utilize and benefit from the civil remedy, which provides greater access to damages than state and tort alternatives. Finally, this Comment concludes with a proposed amendment to the civil statute to alleviate inconsistency in its application and further deter sex trafficking in the hospitality sector.

* Junior Staff Member, American University Law Review, Volume 71; J.D. Candidate, May 2023, American University Washington College of Law; M.A. Candidate, Dec. 2023, American University School of International Service; B.A. International Relations and History, 2018, University of Rochester. Thank you to the entire Law Review staff, particularly my editors, Yiwen Diana Song and Madeline Fuller. I would also like to thank Professor Janie Chuang for her guidance. Finally, I am continually grateful to my family and friends for their support.

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