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|September 29, 2016

Bill to Clear Human Trafficking Survivor Criminal Records Introduced

Bipartisan, bicameral legislation will create long-needed protections for survivors against convictions for crimes they were forced to commit

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 29, 2016) – Polaris, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery and restore freedom to survivors, strongly hailed legislation introduced to help survivors of human trafficking clear their criminal records of non-violent crimes they were forced to commit during their exploitation. The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016, introduced by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Ann Wagner (R-MO-2), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2), and David Jolly (R-FL-13) will help offer survivors of all forms of human trafficking a life without the stigma or challenges stemming from a criminal record that was forced on them.

Keeli Sorensen, Polaris’s Director of Government Relations and Public Policy, said:

“It sounds obvious that survivors of human trafficking shouldn’t be arrested, charged, and convicted of crimes they were forced to commit against their will as a result of their exploitation, but these injustices are happening all too often across America. Simply removing a victim from their trafficking situation is not enough. Survivors are victims of crime, not criminals—they require support, not punishment.

“The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act is absolutely critical to the multi-faceted response that is needed to help survivors rebuild their lives, and it expands on similar vacatur bills Polaris has long advocated to have passed in states around the country. We applaud Senators Gillibrand and Portman and Representatives Wagner, Gabbard, and Jolly for leading this critical effort, and we strongly urge Congress to pass this bill.”

BACKGROUND: The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act allows a victim of human trafficking to request the court vacate their federal criminal convictions and expunge their arrests for non-violent crimes committed as a “direct result of the person having been a victim of trafficking.” Victims are required to provide supporting documentation showing that they qualify as a victim of trafficking, as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The bill applies to victims of both sex and labor trafficking.

Once a court determines to grant the motion, the conviction will be immediately vacated and all official records relating to the arrest and court proceedings will be expunged. As a result, the trafficking victim will have the same status as before the arrest and conviction. Additionally, in cases where a trafficking victim was arrested but not convicted, the victim can still petition the court to have their arrest records expunged if the arrest was a direct result of their victimization.

Polaris has long fought for state legislatures to enact similar legislation in support of survivors, but much of the nation lacks these common sense, necessary provisions. Convictions, and even an arrest record, can cause a lifetime of limited access to essential opportunities such as jobs, loans, education, housing, or visas. Traffickers know this, and will sometimes force their victims to commit crimes as a way to further victimize them. Click here for more information about human trafficking legislation.

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About Polaris
Polaris is a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. Named after the North Star that guided slaves to freedom in the U.S., Polaris acts as a catalyst to systemically disrupt the human trafficking networks that rob human beings of their lives and their freedom. By working with government leaders, the world's leading technology corporations, and local partners, Polaris equips communities to identify, report, and prevent human trafficking. Our comprehensive model puts victims at the center of what we do – helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and leveraging data and technology to pursue traffickers wherever they operate. Learn more at www.polarisproject.org.