Of all the charges brought against former American gymnastics coach John Geddert on Thursday, the most alarming appeared to be the 20 counts of human trafficking.
The charges, announced by Michigan’s attorney general shortly before Geddert died by suicide, represent a creative legal strategy for prosecutors, one that experts say could set a precedent for future legal fights involving coaches around the world. high pressure elite sports.
Although many people associate human trafficking with sexual abuse and human trafficking, its actual definition is much broader, encompassing exploitation and forced labor. That makes the term appropriate for exploration in the context of abusive sports settings.
What is human trafficking?
Under US law, human trafficking is the use of “force, fraud or coercion” to obtain work or a commercial sex act, according to the Department of Justice.
Definitions of human trafficking and its criminal penalties differ by state, but broadly speaking, trafficking focuses on “the exploitation of one person for the benefit of another,” said Kimberly P. Jordan, clinical professor of law at the University. Ohio State that specializes in child abuse and neglect.
According to Kathryn Robb, executive director of Child USAdvocacy, human trafficking can be divided into three categories that occasionally overlap: domestic servitude, forced labor, and sex trafficking. In Mr. Geddert’s case, his human trafficking charges included 14 counts of forced labor resulting in injuries and six counts of trafficking in persons of a minor for forced labor.
Filing human trafficking charges was a strategic move by prosecutors, several experts said, noting that it was not difficult to see how the definition could apply to the actions of abusive coaches who financially benefit from the success of the athletes they train.
Young athletes in particular can be vulnerable to manipulation and control when trying to achieve certain goals or achieve certain status, making them susceptible to sexual abuse and human trafficking, Robb said. (In addition to the trafficking charges, Mr. Geddert was charged with criminal sexual misconduct in the first and second degree).
“These coaches and doctors, in Larry Nassar’s case, have enormous power and control over these kids,” Robb said, referring to the disgraced former US national team doctor who abused hundreds of girls and women. “The promise of a gold medal is a carrot.”
Merely accusing Geddert of human trafficking could have ramifications for the sporting world in general, beyond gymnastics, experts said.
“That alerts coaches and coaches about how they treat their athletes,” said Professor Jordan.
Is human trafficking the same as human trafficking?
The word “traffic” can generate images of movement from one place to another, but transportation is not a mandatory component of traffic, Robb said.
“It’s a misnomer,” he said. “You don’t have to transport someone to be considered traffic.”
Human trafficking is often confused with human trafficking, which is a different criminal activity. While trafficking focuses on exploitation, smuggling primarily involves the transportation of a person or the use of fraudulent documents to gain illegal entry into a country.
What happens next?
On Friday, a spokesperson for Dana Nessel, Michigan’s attorney general, said that Ms. Nessel’s office was not continuing its investigation into Mr. Geddert.
After a defendant facing criminal charges dies, a criminal claim is virtually moot, Professor Jordan said.
However, experts said other legal avenues, such as civil claims against Mr. Geddert’s estate, remained open to potential victims.