January 29, 2020
By Anita S. Teekah, Esq.
As the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, Safe Horizon strongly supports S. 4981 (Ramos) and A. 6983 (Gottfried), the Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act. This critical New York State legislation would clear criminal records for trafficking survivors’ charges resulting from their exploitation and alleviate the life-long impact that criminal convictions have.
4 Ways Criminal Records Forever Impact Human Trafficking Victims
Human trafficking victims often have criminal convictions for a wide range of offenses that were committed solely as a result of being trafficked. This could include theft, prostitution, drug possession, disorderly conduct, and others. These criminal records continue to haunt human trafficking survivors long after they have escaped victimization and exploitation for the following 4 reasons:
- A criminal record limits survivors’ access to employment and educational opportunities, financial resources, housing.
- A criminal record unfairly stigmatizes victims for acts they were forced to commit.
- A criminal record prevents trafficking survivors from fully moving forward with their psychosocial recovery and healing.
- A criminal record can also result in severe immigration consequences, including the threat of deportation and the inability to adjust immigration status or become a citizen.
Current Laws That Help Clear or “Vacate” Criminal Records for Human Trafficking Victims
Currently, New York State only allows for vacatur, or clearing, of certain prostitution-related convictions, which focuses on helping survivors of sex trafficking. However, only addressing prostitution offenses does not help victims of human trafficking (including labor trafficking victims) who have criminal convictions for other various offenses related to their trafficking. In addition, the State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report notes the need for vacatur laws that encompass a range of non-violent offenses that trafficking victims are forced to commit.
3 Ways the START ACT Would Help Clear or “Vacate” Criminal Records for Human Trafficking Victims
The START Act is a broad-based criminal record relief bill that would expand the relief available to all trafficking survivors with criminal records resulting from their exploitation.
- The START Act would enable victims of trafficking to clear from their records criminal charges resulting from their exploitation.
- The START Act would also improve the process for trafficking survivors seeking legal relief by ensuring the confidentiality of documents filed in court and allowing the consolidation of cases originating from different counties.
- The START Act also states that survivors would not need to prove that they have been “rehabilitated” (i.e. sought services) in order to attain relief.
All of these changes would allow survivors of ALL forms of human trafficking to move forward with a fresh start as they regain control of their lives, unhindered by criminal records.
Safe Horizon Stands Behind START
Safe Horizon strongly supports the START Act. We recognize how criminal records impose life-long, detrimental effects on trafficking survivors. We recognize that many of our clients are already disproportionally and adversely affected by systemic discrimination and the traumatic effects from abuse, violence, and exploitation, and know that the current limited laws only compound these negative effects.
It is imperative that the legislature recognize that limiting criminal record relief hinders survivors’ complete healing and reintegration. The START Act is a comprehensive criminal record relief law that will alleviate the life-long impact that criminal convictions have on trafficking survivors.