Press Release

Gillibrand, Portman Announce Bipartisan Legislation to Clear Federal Criminal Records of Human Trafficking Victims

Feb 4, 2020

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), today announced bipartisan legislation, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2020, which would clear the federal criminal records of the survivors of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a form of slavery that affects an estimated 40.3 million victims globally, including hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Survivors of human trafficking are commonly charged with crimes – such as conspiracy, money laundering, and drug trafficking – committed as a direct result of being trafficked. This bill would vacate (make legally void) and expunge non-violent criminal convictions of individuals who are victims of trafficking.

“Human trafficking is a horrific form of slavery that affects hundreds of thousands of people – many of them young girls and children – across this country. These victims are often forced by their captors to commit crimes, and they have absolutely no freedom to refuse,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Convicting human trafficking survivors of criminal charges unfairly places the blame on them, rather than on the true culprits of these crimes, and hurts their ability to get back on their feet after they escape. Our bipartisan bill would clear non-violent criminal convictions of trafficking survivors who were forced to break the law, allowing them to rebuild their lives without a criminal record. We have a responsibility to protect trafficking survivors, and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”

“Trafficking victims are not criminals and they are not prostitutes. They are rape victims,” said Senator Portman. “I’ve met with a number of brave trafficking survivors in Ohio who have told me that after they were forced into sex, they were charged with prostitution. This makes no sense and it hurts survivors at a time when they are recovering from the unimaginable trauma of being trafficked and sexually abused. It’s time to stop punishing these victims and instead help them get their lives back.”

“Historically, the survivors that FAIR Girls works with everyday have too often been treated as criminals despite federal law that recognizes them as victims of a violent crime. As we move towards better trauma-informed, survivor-centered treatment of human trafficking victim, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2020 provides a necessary safety net for victims who have managed to escape their traffickers but are still not truly free. Vacatur laws are the next logical, essential step to supporting victims of human trafficking in their efforts to transition to safe, stable, and independent survivors. FAIR Girls commends the leadership of Senators Gillibrand and Portman in providing human trafficking survivors with this critical tool in making this life-saving transition,” said Erin Andrews, Executive Director of FAIR Girls and former Assistant United States Attorney.

“The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) supports S. 3240 Trafficking Survivors Relief Act (TSRA) because we know firsthand how survivors of human trafficking struggle with the real-world impact of the arrests and criminal convictions that arise as a direct result of their trafficking experiences. We must do better at identifying and assisting trafficking victims before a criminal conviction occurs and for those who the system of justice failed, we must create a victim-centered pathway to right this wrong. S. 3240 is a step toward doing just that,” said Kay Buck, CEO, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST).

“Trafficking often leaves survivors with complex criminal records, which make it difficult to find safe housing, establish a new career, or access education. Creating a path for justice, clearing these records, and supporting lawyers to take these cases will open up new pathways of success for survivors of labor and sex trafficking across the US. We are grateful to Senators Gillibrand and Portman for their leadership on this critical step forward,” said Jean Bruggeman, Executive Director, Freedom Network USA.

Human trafficking is a form of slavery that involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for labor or commercial sex, or the exploitation of a minor for commercial sex. As a result of being trafficked, victims are commonly charged with crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking, and related offenses that then follow them throughout the duration of their lives. A criminal record hurts a victim’s ability to find jobs and housing, which could leave them vulnerable to further exploitation and trafficking.

The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2020 would vacate and expunge non-violent criminal convictions of individuals who are victims of trafficking if those crimes were committed as a direct result of the individual being a victim of trafficking. The bill would require victims to provide supporting documentation in order to get their non-violent criminal records vacated. These documents can include:

  • Certified criminal or immigration court proceedings or law enforcement records that  demonstrate the individual was a victim of trafficking at the time they were charged with the trafficking-related offense(s); or
  • Testimony or sworn statement from a trained, professional staff member of a victim services organization, an attorney, member of the clergy, a health care professional, a therapist, or other professional from whom the person has sought assistance in addressing the trauma associated with being a victim of trafficking.

The bill would also do the following:

  • Require U.S. Attorneys to submit a report of the number of motions filed under the law one year after the date of enactment;
  • Require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a report three years after the date of enactment to assess the law, including how many human trafficking survivors have filed petitions, and how many have been granted vacatur and/or expungement;
  • Ensure that grant funding provided by the Office for Justice Programs and the Office on Violence Against Women can be used for legal representation for post-conviction relief activities.

The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2020 is endorsed by FAIR Girls, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Freedom Network USA, and the New York Anti-Trafficking Network.

The full text of the bill may be found here