While general awareness of human trafficking — which globally involves upwards of 40 million victims in a $150 billion industry — is growing, victims often don’t realize they can pursue legal recourse.
Oregon attorney Joel Shapiro, however, is on a mission to change that. He wants to help people stuck in trafficking become aware that they may be able to take legal action, get their financial due and get on with their lives.
“Most victims of trafficking never would think about talking to a lawyer or what their legal rights would be,” said Shapiro, who has about a decade of experience working on behalf of trafficking victims. Shapiro recently delivered his message to the Clark County Human Trafficking Task Force.
“Many victims may indeed have a route for legal recourse,” he said. Shapiro recommends that social services providers and other advocates tell their clients to consider working with an attorney to find out whether they could receive financial compensation.
The law allows victims of trafficking whose perpetrators have been criminally charged to ask for economic damages that would cover actual costs, such as for therapy, as well as for financial damages associated with being a victim.
In civil cases, however, allowable damages for victims can be much broader.
Shapiro, along with law firm Maloney Lauersdorf Reiner, represented a young woman who, as a 13-year-old, was forced to engage in prostitution at a Beaverton, Ore., strip club. In a settlement last year with a corporation that operated the strip club, she will receive $1.25 million.
Shapiro currently represents victims whose trafficking was associated with backpage.com, a website shut down in April. Federal authorities charged the people running it with money laundering and facilitating prostitution.
One of Shapiro’s clients is the estate of a sex-trafficking victim murdered by a john. Other clients are seeking restitution claims against Backpage.
Tens of thousands of people were impacted as victims of trafficking that happened via Backpage, most of whom are without legal representation, he said.
“I hope they will come forward so they can potentially receive financial compensation,” Shapiro said.
Backpage had more than $100 million in assets, which were seized by the federal government.
“My fear is that the vast majority of those who were exploited will never see a dime and that the money from Backpage won’t be used to help victims,” he said.
Anyone seeking help finding legal support can call Shapiro at 503-224-5950 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are being trafficked and want help, call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733. For a live chat, go to the website of the Human Trafficking Hotline, humantraffickinghotline.org/.
The local task force has a purpose to develop and maintain a collaborative effort with community partners to end sexual exploitation throughout the county. The group holds public meetings the fourth Wednesday of the month at YWCA Clark County, 3609 Main St., Vancouver.