Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New York State Attorney General Tish James held a press conference announcing their support of two bipartisan bills, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act and the Put Trafficking Victims First Act, that would support victims and survivors of human trafficking. They were joined by sex trafficking survivors and anti-trafficking advocates, including Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Rebecca Zipkin, Policy Director of World Without Exploitation, Lori Cohen, CEO of ECPAT-USA, Shandra Woworuntu, founder of Mentari, and Polina Ostrenkova, a trafficking survivor. In 2020, the United States reported nearly 11,000 cases of human trafficking, and New York State is the fourth highest-ranked state in the nation for reported cases. The two bills would help to identify and rescue trafficking victims, support victims in recovery, and remove barriers to data collection on human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is a horrific form of slavery that affects thousands of people across this country and hundreds in New York. All too often, victims of human trafficking are forced by their captors to commit crimes with no freedom to refuse and face criminal charges,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Congress has a responsibility to end these injustices and clear non-violent criminal convictions of trafficking survivors so they can rebuild their lives without a criminal record. These bipartisan bills would help accomplish this goal and would also improve data collection on human trafficking to better identify patterns and provide a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach to recovery.”
“The human trafficking crisis is largely unseen, but deeply felt in communities across New York,”said Attorney General Letitia James. “The bills put forward by Senator Gillibrand will go a long way in putting much-needed attention and resources toward anti-trafficking efforts and supporting trafficking victims and survivors. I thank Senator Gillibrand for her willingness to use her power to help the powerless. My office will continue to do all that we can to address this pervasive issue, and protect women and girls throughout the country.”
“The convictions on my record derailed my chances of becoming a lawful US resident and my dreams of becoming either a lawyer or social worker who could advocate for other survivors. Fortunately a new law in NYS is allowing me to expunge my record and move forward with my life. I am so grateful to Senator Gillibrand for working to make sure that a trafficking victim with federal convictions has the same chance to pursue their dreams as I now do. The more innocent people are free from criminal charges, the better things they can bring to the world,” said Polina Ostrenkova, a Survivor Leader at Covenant House New York.
“We cannot collect comprehensive data on trafficking in persons without understanding what fuels human trafficking, including examining the demand for cheap labor and goods in labor trafficking, and the demand for prostitution in sex trafficking. And we cannot support survivors of trafficking if we punish them for the exploitation they’ve suffered. The bipartisan bills, Put Trafficking Survivors First Act and the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act, respectively, are additional tools to ensure that all agencies and law enforcement, at the federal, state and local levels are trained to detect trafficking victims, and protect survivors, through a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
“For far too long, sex trade survivors have been criminalized for the bad acts of their traffickers,” said Rebecca Zipkin, Policy Director for World Without Exploitation. “They are left with criminal records that effectively bar them from employment, education, financial resources, and housing. Many have remained vulnerable to exploitation, unable to find safety and stability. World Without Exploitation stands in support of The Put Trafficking Survivors First Act as well as the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act. We hope Congress will put survivors first and understand the need for this essential legislation.”
“These bipartisan bills will be the most powerful legislation to end human trafficking by learning the pattern of the trafficker Ana perpetrator though the data, practicing the non punishment principal by treating victims as a victim in the justice system through the training and tech assistant, this bill will address the impunity, the demand and grass roots of the trafficking. The trafficking survivors relief acts will give the freedom path to trafficking survivors to experience fully freedom and give them ability to express their freedom through their life after trafficking,” said Shandra Woworuntu, founder of Mentari.
“Sanctuary for Families strongly supports Senator Gillibrand’s bill enabling trafficking victims to vacate criminal convictions incurred as a result of their abuse by the brutal predators who exploit them. For far too long trafficking victims have been doubly victimized, first by their traffickers and then by a criminal justice system that fails to recognize how traffickers insert their victims into their criminal enterprises. Senator Gillibrand’s bill would end this double victimization for many victims and enable them to rebuild their lives free of the stigma of unjust criminal penalties,” said Judy Harris Kluger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families.
Human trafficking is a modern 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, co-led by Senator Portman (R-OH), would create a federal law to vacate and expunge non-violent criminal convictions of individuals who committed those crimes as a direct result of being trafficked. The new law would require victims to provide supporting documentation to certify their status as a victim of trafficking. These documents may 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.
Gillibrand and James also announced their support for the Put Trafficking Victims First Act, co-led by Senator Rubio (R-FL), legislation that would help give the Attorney General and law enforcement entities the tools needed to provide trauma-informed support to victims of human trafficking, who often suffer from significant trauma and distrust due to their experience. Traffickers leverage a range of tools from psychological coercion to use of force to take advantage of and isolate potential victims, leaving a tremendous need for law enforcement entities and service providers to have access to tools to help victims escape and recover. Specifically, this bill would:
- Direct the Attorney General to provide training and technical assistance for federal, state, and local government agencies, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials to better investigate, prosecute, and prevent trafficking through a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach.
- Establish an expert working group to identify the methodological barriers hampering data collection on human trafficking and submit a report to Congress within 3 years.
- Direct the Attorney General to submit a report to Congress within 1 year on efforts to increase mandatory restitution orders and to provide restitution to trafficking victims.
- Encourage states to adopt rights and protections for victims, including access to housing, trauma-informed care, implementing better screening mechanisms for children entering child welfare services, creating state-level vacatur laws, and developing a state 24-hour emergency response plan to provide victims with immediate protection and support when they are first identified.
For a summary of this bill, please click here.