OTLA Trial Lawyer Winter 2022

31 Trial Lawyer • Winter 2022 By Joel Shapiro OTLA Guardian Did you know that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex trafficking operation in the basement of a pizza place inWashington, D.C.? Did you know there are Satan-worshiping, blood-drinking, pedophile sex trafficking rings run by celebrities and Democratic politicians? I am referring, of course, to the Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracy theories. While it’s easy to laugh, consider that a significant portion of your jury pool may hold these views. A recent study found that a whopping 40% of respondents who get their news from right-wing media sources believe that “the government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satanworshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.” Another pol l found that 17% of Americans hold that view. The compelling power of these views was demonstrated by Edgar Maddison Welch. The 28-year old North Carolina man believed so fervently that a pedophile sex trafficking ring was operating out of the basement of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, that he grabbed his AR-15, made the five-hour drive north and stormed the pizza place. He was shocked to find there was no basement and no sex trafficking operation. Although the vast majority of jurors don’t believe in far-fetched conspiracy theories, the fact so many of them center on sex trafficking indicates the power this narrative holds in the American psyche. The reality is sex trafficking in the U.S. is all too real and all too common. Sadly, the lurid depictions in movies, pop culture and the media designed to capitalize on this fascination also mean that most people’s mental picture of sex trafficking is wildly inaccurate. For attorneys seeking to harness the justice system for the benefit of trafficking victims, these myths and misconceptions represent a significant hurdle. First, it is much harder for trafficking victims to be identified and connected with social services — including legal representation —when the vast majority of people who could potentially intervene are not looking for the right indicators. And if a survivor is connected with an attorney Joel Shapiro and a civil claim is brought, it is that much harder to convince a jury to award appropriate damages when their image of sex trafficking doesn’t align with the harm the plaintiff suffered. Misconceptions Not only do inaccurate cultural narratives about human trafficking encumber plaintiff lawyers in educating judges and jurors, but also the misconceptions do not coincide with the legal definition of human trafficking. When most people hear about human trafficking, they picture foreigners being smuggled into the U.S. But human trafficking is not smuggling. When many people hear the term sex trafficking, they picture women brought into the country from Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia. But most sex trafficking victims are American citizens. A report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that 83% of victims in confirmed sex trafficking cases were U.S. citizens. However, 67% of confirmed labor trafficking victims were identified as undocumented aliens.1 In fact, the word trafficking itself is very misleading. The legal definition of human trafficking does not require movement — not even crossing of state lines. Rather, human trafficking is exploitation involving the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel the performance of labor or commercial sex acts. Also, Human Trafficking See Human Trafficking p 32