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New Bill to Help Human Trafficking Survivors Overcome Legal Burdens and Rebuild their Lives

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with Shandra Woworuntu

September 29, 2016

Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery that affects millions in the United States and abroad. This crime involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit people for labor or commercial sex, or exploit minors for commercial sex. Traffickers use explicit threats or psychological coercion to manipulate their victims into committing crimes. As a result, victims are commonly charged with crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking, and related offenses that follow them throughout the duration of their lives. These charges make it difficult for human trafficking victims to find jobs and housing, which leaves them vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked again.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York recently introduced a new bill called the Federal Criminal Procedure Post-Conviction Relief for Victims of Trafficking Act that 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. The Act will also establish a comprehensive system to ensure that all trafficking survivors – both sex and labor, both adults and children – are able to clear their federal criminal records, and therefore, leave their trafficking experience behind them. Eliminating the barriers that criminal arrests and convictions create for trafficking survivors can help them find hope and a clearer pathway for a new and brighter future.

Senator Gillibrand urged other officials to support this legislation. “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. We all have a responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable Americans.

Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program (ATP) is one of the largest direct service providers to victims of human trafficking on the east coast. One of the survivors of human trafficking we helped named Shandra Woworuntu has translated her pain into powerful advocacy. After escaping the traumatic experiences of being sold and forced into an underworld of sex trafficking in New York and the surrounded areas, Shandra helped create a survivor leadership program both in the United States and her native Indonesia. Most recently, Shandra was appointed to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking by President Barack Obama. Shandra feels excited about the new bill and the strides it will make in benefitting survivors of human trafficking. “As a survivor of human trafficking, I am grateful that this act is being taken into serious consideration. It will ease the impact of long-term trauma from the arrest or conviction to help survivors rebuild their lives.” said Shandra. “I want to personally thank Senator Gillibrand, Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST), Freedom Network, National Survivor Network (NSN) and all the advocates who worked hard on this bill. I am optimistic that it will pass.