John Geddert Charges: What Is Human Trafficking?

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Of all the charges brought against the former U.S. gymnastics coach John Geddert on Thursday, the most alarming seemed to be the 20 counts of human trafficking.

The charges, announced by Michigan’s attorney general shortly before Mr. 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 in the high-pressure world of elite sports.

Although many people associate human trafficking with sexual abuse and people smuggling, its actual definition is much broader, encompassing exploitation and forced labor. That makes the term ripe for exploration in the context of abusive athletic environments.

Under U.S. law, human trafficking is the use of “force, fraud or coercion” to obtain labor or a commercial sex act, according to the Justice Department.

After a defendant facing criminal charges dies, a criminal lawsuit is pretty much moot, Professor Jordan said.

However, experts said other legal avenues, such as civil lawsuits against Mr. Geddert’s estate, remained open to possible victims.

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