New York, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today stood with survivors of trafficking and advocacy groups to announce new bipartisan legislation, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016, which would clear criminal records of victims of human trafficking. This bill would apply to non-violent crimes committed by individuals as a direct result of human trafficking.
“We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to take care of human trafficking survivors who manage to escape from captivity,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “In many cases, when trafficked people – including children – are forced into slavery, they are tagged with criminal charges that stay with them for the rest of their lives, even though they have absolutely no freedom to say no to their captors, who force them to commit crimes. I urge all of my colleagues to support my legislation to clear non-violent criminal convictions of trafficking victims who were forced to break the law while in captivity. We all have a responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable Americans.”
Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery affecting millions in the United States and abroad. This crime involves either 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. These charges make it difficult for human trafficking victims to find jobs and housing, leaving them vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked again.
“We have been able to help numerous women in the Bronx to move on from the trauma of human trafficking with the New York State Law that expunges their criminal convictions, so we welcome Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Trafficking Survivors Relief Act, which will remove the burden from victims across the nation and have a positive impact on a great number of lives,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark.
“As law enforcement’s awareness and understanding of human trafficking has evolved, so has its treatment of the vulnerable people traffickers exploit. Helping victims to vacate and expunge their prior trafficking-related convictions is an important part of any victim-centered approach to combatting these crimes. I would like to thank Senator Gillibrand for her advocacy, and urge our federal lawmakers to support this proposal,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
“Sanctuary for Families’ lawyers and social workers have assisted more than 500 survivors of sex and labor trafficking, many with criminal convictions incurred as a direct result of their exploitation. These convictions perpetuate their victimization, preventing them from exiting conditions of marginalization, stigma, and poverty and rebuilding their lives. Senator Gillibrand’s bill will help remove this barrier to justice, safety, and healing,” said Dorchen A. Leidholdt, the Director of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families.
“Criminalization of human trafficking survivors causes both emotional harm and creates barriers to rebuilding their lives. We are grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership in supporting measures that promote survivors’ recovery and well-being,” said Larry Lee, Executive Director of the New York Asian Women’s Center.
Senator Gillibrand’s legislation 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 demonstrating that the individual was a victim of trafficking at the time they were charged with the trafficking-related offense(s).
- 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, or
- An affidavit or sworn testimony of the movant indicating that they were a victim of human trafficking at the time of their arrest and that they engaged in or were otherwise accused of engaging in criminal activities as a direct result of being a victim of human trafficking.