In June, Georgia enacted a law that finally allows adult survivors to clear their criminal records of convictions that occurred because they were being trafficked. This is great news for countless sex and labor trafficking survivors, the vast majority of whom have some record of arrest or conviction as a direct result of their victimization.
In March 2019, Polaris released a report grading each state on its criminal record relief laws for trafficking survivors. At that time, Georgia rated 0. That’s because before Gov. Brian Kemp signed The Debbie Vance law, only survivors who were children at the time of their arrests could have their records cleared. But we know from operating the U.S. National Human Trafficking that approximately half the identified survivors of trafficking in a given year were adults at the time their trafficking began.
And many of these survivors found that despite breaking free from a trafficking situation, it was virtually impossible to get out from under a criminal record. That record affected everything, from renting an apartment to finding a job to managing trauma.
Now, Georgia’s law in addition to including relief for adults, has several other important and thoughtful elements, bringing the score up to 72 and entering Georgia into a tie with Florida for third-best law in the nation.
Among the other positive steps, the new Georgia law attempts to relieve some of the economic burden on survivors by:
- Requiring that survivors get fines and fees they paid as a result of their criminal convictions returned once the conviction is vacated.
- Barring individual agencies that have the records on file – such as the courts, law enforcement, etc. – from charging a survivor for actually removing the records once the conviction is cleared so that no one can actually go dig it up for some reason.
Polaris applauds Georgia’s leap in the right direction and urges other states, such as South Dakota whose recent law only applies to minors, to follow suit.