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Study Confirms Trafficking Victims Like Zephi Trevino Are Being Consistently Criminalized

Zephi Trevino, wearing a visor, standing in front of a softball field.

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The release of a National Survivor Study (NSS) by Polaris confirmed what many in the anti-trafficking field have always known – trafficking victims are being arrested and charged for crimes at shocking rates. The NSS data found that of 439 participating trafficking survivors, 62 percent had been cited, arrested, or detained by law enforcement at least once. Digging deeper into the data to see if the arrests might have come before or after the trafficking experience, 80 percent said the arrests came while they were being trafficked.

This study supported the claim that in cases like Zephi Trevino’s upcoming trial in Texas, law enforcement and prosecutors are ignoring a victim’s trafficking experience and going ahead with charges. Zephi was 16 when her adult boyfriend started trafficking her. She was later used by her trafficker as part of a scheme to rob a sex buyer. Her trafficker murdered the would-be sex buyer, and Zephi was then charged as an adult with capital murder for being part of the crime. The Dallas district attorney has continued moving forward with the case in spite of receiving evidence that the crime was a result of minor sex trafficking, ignoring the circumstances that she was a trafficking victim under both state and federal law.

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Zephi’s case highlights how policies meant to protect trafficking victims can be disregarded when someone does not fit neatly into someone’s definition of a model trafficking victim. Legal aid organizations across the country are consistently challenged to prove the worthiness of survivors in order to clear criminal records that in many cases were a direct result of trafficking. In some cases, trafficking survivors have had to participate in clemency hearings where they were required to ask for forgiveness for crimes they were forced by traffickers to commit.

Concerned members of the public can contact District Attorney John Creuzot and ask him to drop or reconsider the charges. If you would like to sign up to support additional advocacy efforts on survivor record relief, visit our Take Action page.

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.