Workable Solutions for Criminal Record Relief: Recommendations for Prosecutors Serving Victims of Human Trafficking

When the Trafficking Victims Protection Act became law in 2000, it specifically provided that “[v]ictims of severe forms of trafficking should not be inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as using false documents, entering the country without documentation, or working without documentation.” In reality, however, trafficking survivors are regularly arrested and prosecuted for crimes resulting from their trafficking. In a 2016 survey conducted by the National Survivor Network, more than 90 percent of trafficking survivors reported having been arrested at least once, with more than 50 percent reporting that every arrest on their record was trafficking-related. Trafficking survivors further report that criminal records regularly prevent them from obtaining employment, educational and professional opportunities, secure housing, and financial freedom. As a result, survivors remain marginalized and vulnerable to further exploitation.

In 2010, New York became the first state to allow trafficking survivors to clear certain criminal charges from their records. Criminal record relief laws allow survivors the ability to vacate, expunge, or seal arrests and convictions from their records where the conduct was the result of victimization. In the years since New York passed its law, almost every state has enacted some form of criminal record relief for trafficking survivors. Across the country, hundreds of survivors have filed petitions seeking relief on trafficking-related arrests and convictions.

With the support of the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence launched the Survivor Reentry Project (“SRP”) in 2016. SRP provides national training and technical assistance for attorneys working with survivors of human trafficking seeking criminal record relief.

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