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Suing Lawrence Taylor "next frontier" in fighting sex trafficking, says expert

Gloria Allred and Cristine Fierro speak at a press conference in Manhattan AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Gloria Allred and Cristine Fierro
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
(CBS) NEW YORK - On Monday afternoon, 18-year-old Cristina Fierro stood before a crowd of reporters at a Manhattan hotel and announced that she was suing former football star Lawrence Taylor.

Fierro, previously known only as "C.F.," is the young woman who, at age 16, was allegedly forced by a man named Rasheed Davis to meet Taylor in a hotel room for sex on May 5, 2010.

Taylor was initially charged with rape, but in January 2011 he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors instead, and was sentenced to six years probation.

Davis, on the other hand, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking charges and is serving a seven year prison term. According to the U.S. Attorney's sentencing statement, Davis beat Fierro when she said she didn't want to have sex for money, and took the $300 that Mr. Taylor gave her at the end of the act.

"I am glad Mr. Taylor was prosecuted," said Fierro on Monday, reading from a statement. "But I feel as though he should have gone to jail to think about what he has done to me."

Standing beside Fierro was celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing the young woman.

"Lawrence Taylor pled guilty to patronizing a prostitute and sexual misconduct," she said. "She was not a prostitute, but was instead a child victim of sex trafficking."

Allred announced that Fierro is bringing two lawsuits - one under a local administrative code that allows a victim to sue someone who has committed a "crime of violence motivated by gender," and the other, under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which defines any child under 18 who is induced into the sex trade as a victim of sex trafficking.

Allred said she believes this case is "the first civil lawsuit of its kind on behalf of a child victim of sex trafficking against a buyer of a commercial sex act with that child."

Seeking justice in civil court for sexual abuse or trafficking is not new: Just yesterday, one of Jerry Sandusky's alleged victims announced he is suing the former coach; and on Nov. 10, a Miami jury returned a $100 million verdict against Rev. Neil Doherty on behalf of a man he allegedly drugged and raped as a child.

In 2009, a group of Mexican farm workers who had allegedly been trafficked into unpaid labor in Colorado won a $7.8 million in a civil suit against the people who, according to the Denver Post, "brought them to America and forced them to live as virtual prisoners as they worked off their debts."

But experts we spoke to said they believed Allred was correct when she said that Fierro may be the first victim of sex trafficking to ever sue the buyer of the illicit services she provided.

"Men who buy sex from children have this sense they won't be punished, that they'll get away from it," says Bradley Myles, the Executive Director of Polaris Project, a non-profit organization that works to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery. "These types of cases are starting to send a clear message that you're going to get prosecuted or sued. They are creating a paradigm shift in how we think about children in the sex trade."

And while the suit may be unprecedented, it is, perhaps, the logical next step in a long movement to name, understand and combat what used to be called child or teen prostitution, but is now known in law enforcement circles as "domestic minor sex trafficking." The theory, say advocates and attorneys, is that the so-called pimps who run underage boys and girls for sex on the streets - and between the states - do so through the same kind of violence and intimidation used by people who bring women from foreign countries into the U.S. Thus, they should be called traffickers, and their "prostitutes," trafficking victims.

"The majority of sex trafficking [in the U.S.] happens domestically, between states, not from other countries," says Jeff Dion, Director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association.

According to Kathleen Kim, an attorney and professor at Loyola Law School who has represented victims of trafficking, one reason that there are almost no cases of victims suing their traffickers is that being forced to sell sex is a uniquely traumatic experience that people are reluctant to relive, even in criminal court.

"Most victims would rather just put it behind them," says Kim, who co-authored a booklet entitled "Civil Litigation on Behalf of Victims of Human Trafficking."

Kim says the Fierro case represents a "novel" use of the federal anti-trafficking law - one that has been made possible by changes in 2003 and 2008 which allowed for civil remedies for victims and expanded the pool of defendants who could be sued.

Of course, the facts of Fierro's civil case have yet to be established definitively. According to Allred, Taylor has 30 days to answer the lawsuit.

Lawrence Taylor's attorney Arthur Aidala called the allegations set out in Allred's statement Monday - for example, that Fierro's face was visibly bloody and bruised when she met Taylor in the hotel - "a fairytale."

He told Crimesider that he has a sworn deposition from Fierro's former roommate that contradicts much of what is laid out in Allred's version of events.

"The truth is very ugly for the plaintiff," says Aidala. "We've gone to great lengths not to disparage this girl. Now she has a lawyer exploiting her."

But no matter who wins, the case is, as Bradley Myles of the Polaris Project puts it, "groundbreaking."

"The next frontier in fighting sex trafficking in the U.S. is going to be these civil tools," says Myles.

Brian O'Dwyer, the attorney who helped the family of missing New York City boy Etan Patz sue Jose Ramos for wrongful death - despite the fact that Patz's body was never found, said that the standard of proof is much lower in civil as opposed to criminal court.

"Most of the time it's fairly easy to get a judgment," said O'Dwyer. "The problem is collecting on the judgment."

  • Julia Dahl

    Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for CBSNews.com

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