Grading Criminal Record Relief Laws for Survivors of Human Trafficking
By its very definition, the crime of human trafficking involves people participating in some activity against their will. Often those activities are illegal – prostitution, selling drugs, shoplifting – and trafficking victims are arrested and charged with a crime. This tragically ironic scenario is extremely common – a survey found that 91% of survivor respondents had a criminal record as a result of being trafficked. A criminal record, even an arrest without a conviction, often leads to doors being slammed shut. It’s harder to find a job, rent an apartment, and otherwise rebuild a life after breaking free from a trafficking situation.
Human trafficking victims are survivors of trauma — not criminals.
Many states have attempted to provide relief by giving trafficking victims a path toward having criminal records cleared. Unfortunately, many of the laws don’t work for survivors. We offer detailed report cards for each state, assessing what works and what doesn’t in their laws – if they have one – and providing clear steps for improvement.
“Every time I sent [my application] in, I got it returned. It was frustrating. I was finally just going to forget it and say to myself ‘I just won’t ever get a job doing these things because everyone is going to judge me and I have to keep reliving my past.’”
“When you have to put down prostitution on an application for a job or an apartment, there’s so much shame in that.”
“I do not choose to identify as a prostitute, but that was what the penal code said I am. Just knowing that the law has labeled me as such played a part in the trauma and getting past this label is part of the healing.”
“After the [prostitution] conviction was on my record, all doors seemed to close for me. I lived in a prison. People might say it was in my mind, but it really wasn’t. It was reality.”
This report was written in collaboration with Jessica Emerson and Kate Mogulescu of the Survivor Reentry Project, a project of the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence.