October 01, 2016

Legislation would protect rights of human trafficking victims

The ABA expressed support this month for bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate that would increase protection and assistance for victims of human trafficking.

S. 3441, introduced Sept. 28 by Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and H.R. 6292 − introduced the same day in the House by Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and David W. Jolly (R-Fla.) – would permit a victim of human trafficking to move to vacate convictions and expunge arrests for nonviolent crimes committed by the victim as a direct result of the trafficking.

“Survivors of human trafficking – who have endured beatings, sexual assault and psychological control – are often arrested and convicted of prostitution and other related offenses,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote to the sponsors in an Oct. 5 letter. Their criminal records, he explained, prevent them from successfully applying for jobs, housing and loans.

“Legislation like the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act offers survivors of trafficking a significant opportunity to move forward with their lives and leave the reminders of their victimization in the past,” he said.

The legislation would require the victims to provide documentation in order to have their non-violent criminal records vacated, including: certified court proceedings or law enforcement records; testimony or sworn statements from trained professionals from whom the person sought assistance; and affidavits or sworn testimony from the individuals indicating that they were victims of human trafficking at the time of their arrests and that the criminal activities of which they are accused are a direct result of being victims of human trafficking.

“We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to take care of human trafficking survivors who manage to escape from captivity,” Gillibrand said. “In many cases, when trafficked people – including children – are forced into slavery, they are tagged with criminal charges that stay with them for the rest of their lives, even though they have absolutely no freedom to say no to their captors, who force them to commit crimes.”