When conducting a comprehensive needs assessment for survivors of human trafficking, either in crisis or as part of long-term support plan, it is critical to incorporate a discussion of criminal legal involvement and needs. Many survivors have been arrested, often more than once, and their arrest records can greatly impact their stability, eligibility for services, programs, licenses, and jobs, and impede empowerment and well-being.
Often individuals who have been arrested do not know the final outcome of that arrest and it is not uncommon for survivors to be unclear about, or simply not remember, how many times they have been arrested, or even where those arrests occurred. This is complicated by the fact that not every arrest results in a conviction (a finding of guilt). Arrests and convictions have different legal ramifications, but most people who have been involved in the criminal legal system are not aware of the various collateral consequences created by their criminal records.
Depending on the state, both arrests and convictions can cause ongoing issues in survivors’ lives. Survivors frequently experience arrests and convictions while being trafficked, as well as before and after their trafficking experience. Many states have laws that allow general relief from criminal records from which survivors benefit. These recent laws allow survivors to vacate (meaning clear), expunge, or seal arrests or prior convictions in limited circumstances.
While relief specific to trafficking victims may not apply to records that predate a survivor’s trafficking experience, it is important to explore both scenarios, and get as much information as possible, in order to determine eligibility for any relief.
The law in this area is very state specific, but service providers can use the following general checklist to assess eligibility, including specific questions to explore with the survivor and best practices for explaining potential relief.
As a preliminary matter, when working with a survivor, ascertain whether they have previously been arrested for any reason, in any place. Then proceed through the following questions to help navigate eligibility.