Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Syntax or Experience: What Should Determine If Sex Trafficking Qualifies as a Crime of Violence?

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Syntax or Experience: What Should Determine If Sex Trafficking Qualifies as a Crime of Violence?

Article excerpt


The residents of Lebanon, Missouri, a small town in the southern part of the state, certainly did not believe their kind, generous neighbors were in fact sadistic slave owners. (1) Yet such brutality existed, lurking beneath one such family's gentle and caring facade. (2) In what was later described as the most horrific case of sex trafficking ever prosecuted in the state, a resident couple housed a mentally deficient runaway teenage girl with a troubled past and forced her to sign a never-ending sex-slave contract. (3) "Master Ed" branded his victim with a bar code tattoo, marking her as his property, and forced her to have sex with him and several "customers." (4) Over the next six years, Master Ed subjected the girl to waterboarding, electrocution, and beatings. (5) He repeatedly threatened his victim with a gun, exhibiting his ability to kill her if she did not comply. (6) The trafficking was not discovered until 2009, when the victim went into cardiac arrest after one of Master Ed's torture sessions, resulting in her hospitalization and emergency treatment. (7)

While the circumstances in the Lebanon case were especially horrific, the practice of sex trafficking is not unique. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center ("NHTRC") reported 4136 cases of sex trafficking in the United States in 2015, (8) including 155 cases in Missouri between 2013 and 2015. (9) To combat these alarming statistics, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act ("TVPA") in 2000 to "ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers." (10) The TVPA criminalizes the trafficking of people in the commercial sex industry by force, fraud, or coercion. (11) A conviction under this statute subjects a defendant to a minimum of fifteen years in federal prison. (12)

Separately, Congress authorized federal prosecutors to charge defendants who possess a gun while committing a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. [section] 924(c). (13) A conviction under this statute is punishable by at least five years, served in addition to the underlying crime of violence. (14) To convict a defendant under [section] 924(c), prosecutors must show (1) the defendant possessed or used a gun in the commission of his or her crime and (2) the crime committed is characterized as a "crime of violence." (15) Prior to 2015, federal courts agreed the sex trafficking of minors was a "crime of violence." (16) However, in August 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit went against this trend, declaring sex trafficking of an adult victim not to be a crime of violence. (17)

This Note analyzes the Fourth Circuit's opinion in United States v. Fuertes, ultimately concluding that, contrary to the decision in Fuertes, sex trafficking should be considered a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. [section] 924(c). Part II of this Note details the acts of German Ventura, a defendant charged with sex trafficking and possession of a gun during a crime of violence. Part III explores the purpose of [section] 924(c) and courts' interpretations of "crime of violence"; it then considers federal circuit courts' bases for finding sex trafficking under the TVPA to be a violent crime under a variety of statutes. Part IV summarizes the Fourth Circuit's decision to depart from established precedent. Part V scrutinizes the court's theory that sex trafficking cannot be a violent crime, ultimately resolving that, while sex trafficking should be considered a crime of violence, Congress must change the statute to expressly reflect the violent nature of sex trafficking.


By early 2008, German Ventura owned and operated several brothels throughout Annapolis, Maryland, quickly becoming a top competitor in the commercial sex industry. (18) Ventura arranged for prostitutes to work in his brothels on a weekly basis. (19) The women communicated with Ventura by phone, traveled to Washington, D.C., by bus, and were transported by Ventura or his employees to a brothel. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.