Convicted Sex Trafficking Victims Have Chance at Clean Record

Applying for a new job or apartment is hard enough for any of us, right? In the U.S., former sex trafficking victims can hit an even bigger snag when securing employment and housing, especially if they have been (wrongly) convicted of prostitution. So, in addition to physical and emotional recovery from sexual exploitation, these victims often will be denied the basics, as well. How empowering.

Kudos, then, to the State of New York (NYS) for recognizing this issue and proposing legislation that will do something about it. Bill S.4429/A.7670, which is being sponsored by Senator Thomas Duane and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, will give sex trafficking victims a clean slate by allowing them to expunge their records. The bill has already been passed by the Assembly, and is currently in the Senate Codes Committee.

Here’s how the bill boils down: If a person has been convicted of either prostitution or loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution, but in reality was a victim of sex trafficking, then she would be able to have those charges eliminated from her criminal record. And a clear record for those victims, of course, translates to a much better chance at things like a home and paying work. Sweet.

One caveat, however, which has been pointed out by the NYC Bar, lies in a portion of the bill that would require documented proof of victimization before expunging a record. Whoops. Hey, New York, if you need to borrow a red pen to edit this bill, I’ve got a bunch. Because the thing about proof of sex trafficking is that it’s not exactly like getting a note from your mom to say why you were absent from school. As the Bar advises, “Sex trafficking victims may face a host of obstacles, from administrative hurdles to real risks for their safety, in obtaining official documentation of their status.” Basically, it would be complicated, dicey and potentially traumatic, for a victim to acquire this proof.

In order to maximize the bill’s effectiveness, the Bar suggests that NYS allow for as broad an interpretation as possible when it comes to this “official documentation.” My two cents? For victims under the age of 18, maybe a birth certificate or driver’s license could suffice. Since all underage prostitutes should be considered victims.

Regardless of these quibbles over language, the bill is smart, appropriate and long overdue. And if it passes — fingers crossed — it will be the first law of its kind in our nation. I predict and hope it’s a trailblazer for other states, giving sex trafficking victims throughout the U.S. a door to recovery that is truly open.

Photo credit: timstock_nyc



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