Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a video press conference to announce her 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. She was joined by sex trafficking survivors and anti-trafficking advocates, including Shandra Woworuntu, founder and C.E.O. of Mentari, and Alexi Meyers, Director of Anti-Trafficking Policy at Sanctuary for Families and co-chair of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. 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.”
“These bipartisan bills will be the most powerful legislation to end human trafficking by learning the pattern of the trafficker and 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.
“As a former prosecutor here in New York and an advocate for survivors with Sanctuary for Families, I have worked with many victims of sex trafficking who have been arrested because of their victimization. These criminal convictions effectively bar access to employment, education, housing, and impact immigration status. Sanctuary for Families has filed scores of vacatur applications under NYS vacatur law on behalf of the trafficking survivors we serve, and we have witnessed the transformation it’s effected in their lives. It is essential that the federal system also enact Senator Gillibrand’s law to vacate and expunge criminal convictions of individuals who are victims of trafficking,” said Alexi Meyers, Director of Anti-Trafficking Policy at Sanctuary for Families and co-chair of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition.
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 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.