Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

The term human trafficking is used to describe many forms of exploitation of human beings. Under California law, human trafficking is the deprivation or violation of the personal liberty of another person with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, including sex.

Human trafficking does not necessarily involve smuggling or moving victims from outside of the country or state, or from one place to another. It means using force, fraud, duress, coercion or equivalent conduct to obtain labor or services. This can occur in private homes, in agricultural fields, factories, restaurants, in brothels or strip clubs, or in any other industry. It can occur in rural and urban areas, and victims can be anyone: men or women; adults or children; people with little or no education or with advanced degrees; undocumented migrants, U.S. citizens, or documented immigrants.

Click here for legal definitions.

What to do if you suspect a case of human trafficking?

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.

Call a 24-hour hotline to access help and services or to report a suspected situation of human trafficking:

  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center: call 1-888-373-7888 or TEXT: Be Free or 233733
  • California Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST): call 1-888-KEY-2FRE(EDOM) or 1-888-539-2373

The hotlines are:

  • Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Toll-free
  • Operated by non-profit, non-governmental organizations
  • Anonymous and confidential
  • Accessible in more than 160 languages
  • Able to provide help, referral to services, training, and general information

What can DFEH do?

Human trafficking is a violation of civil law in addition to being a criminal offense. In 2016, AB 1684 (Stone) gave DFEH authority to receive, investigate, conciliate, mediate, and prosecute civil complaints alleging human trafficking under California Civil Code, § 52.5, the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Click here to view the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Complaints alleging violations of the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act must be filed within seven years of the date on which the trafficking victim was freed from the trafficking situation or, if the victim was a minor when the act of human trafficking occurred, within 10 years after the date the victim attains the age of majority. Various circumstances can suspend the running of this statute of limitations.

It is not necessary to file a complaint with DFEH before filing a lawsuit alleging violations of the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, nor is it necessary to get a “right-to-sue” letter.

If you would like DFEH to investigate a case for potential civil remedies, you can file a complaint. The complaint process starts with filling out and filing a form entitled “Intake Form.” (This form is optional and provided for your convenience. We will accept a complaint in other formats).

Click here for instructions on how to file a complaint

Civil remedies available under the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act

  • Actual Damages (economic damages, including lost wages, cost of medical treatments, etc.)
  • Compensatory Damages (payment for emotional suffering and distress)
  • Punitive Damages
  • Injunctive Relief (includes restraining orders)
  • Treble Damages or Civil Penalty: the person filing the complaint may be awarded three times the amount of actual damages, or $10,000, whichever is greater.
  • Attorney’s Fees