Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representatives Ann Wagner (R-MO), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and David Jolly (R-FL) today introduced 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.
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 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 this 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.”
“Thousands of innocent women and girls have been victimized by human traffickers across our country. I’ve met with a number of brave survivors in Ohio who have told me that after they were forced into sex and raped by strangers, they were charged with prostitution. I think that’s outrageous. They’re not criminals; they’re victims, and these charges come at a time when they are suffering. It’s time to stop punishing these victims and instead help them get their lives back,” said Senator Rob Portman.
“Human trafficking survivors should not spend the rest of their lives burdened with criminal records for non-violent offenses they were forced or coerced into committing. This commonsense legislation would shatter yet another shackle holding survivors back from simple justice and a new beginning,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal.
“We have a moral obligation to protect survivors of trafficking who were arrested or convicted for offenses that they were forced to commit,” said Congresswoman Ann Wagner. “No victims of trafficking should be criminalized for the horrific exploitation they have endured. I am proud that with this legislation we are giving survivors a fresh start and an opportunity to recover from trauma, social stigma, and discrimination.”
“Tens of thousands of men, women, and children are victims of human trafficking each year. Too often, they are charged as criminals, thrown in prison, and trailed by a criminal history the rest of their lives instead of getting the care and help they need. The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act will empower human trafficking victims to escape the chains of their past and move forward with their lives,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02).
“Human trafficking is the slavery of our time, and as such, we must prioritize the protection and reintegration of its victims over the prosecution of the crimes committed as a result of their entrapment. As a caring society, let us not victimize twice those who so desperately need our help to find safety and restart their life free from persecution,” said Congressman David Jolly (FL-13).
The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016 would require victims to provide supporting documentation in order to get their non-violent criminal records vacated. These documents can include the following:
- 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.