Let Human Trafficking Victims Pursue Happiness

Posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2021 at 6:00 pm    

Human trafficking is incredibly pervasive, lurking in every community and preying on the vulnerable. In recent years there has been a movement to bring trafficking out in the open and make more people aware of what is happening right in their neighborhoods. The more people whose eyes are opened to these crimes, the better we can all protect the victims and prevent future damage.

Victims of human trafficking are subjected to many horrors. After they’ve escaped from their abuser, it will take many years of recovery to heal from the trauma of their experiences. Unfortunately, psychological and physical trauma are not the only lingering effects of human trafficking. One of the most difficult issues for survivors is dealing with the criminal records they develop while being trafficked. Crime and trafficking go hand in hand, and victims are often forced to become sex workers, carry drugs, commit theft, and more, all while they were under the control of their abuser without the ability to refuse. The arresting officers and the court systems aren’t nuanced enough to navigate the complicated dynamics of trafficking, and slap victims with harsh penalties and records for crimes they were forced to commit. Trafficking survivors have difficulty living their lives because these records can prevent them from obtaining jobs and housing.

The pursuit of justice for human trafficking victims, as well as awareness campaigns about the issue, have done some good. Many state lawmakers have passed criminal record relief laws that allow for survivors to have records connected to their trafficking expunged or sealed. But not all states are equal; in some, the eligibility is too restrictive to do any good, and in others the process is so difficult that it prevents anyone from utilizing it. Even when a victim is able to go through the process, they can become traumatized. One victim said that for every charge she wanted to get expunged she had to explain in great detail how her abuser influenced this crime, causing her to relive her trafficking experience. “At one time I thought the hardest thing to get away from [my trafficker], until I was away from him, and I was like, that’s not the hardest part,” said the victim. “The hardest part is trying to rebuild your life afterwards.” Other victims struggle with the expense of having their records expunged. For each petition the victim files, they must pay hundreds of dollars in filing fees. It some cases, the victim is able to work with a nonprofit who can financially support trafficking victims with these fees, but not every victim has access to such an organization.

Lawmakers must push to make these criminal record relief laws more accessible to victims of human trafficking. They must understand the painful and difficult cards that survivors have already been dealt and do their best to make their futures brighter. Recently the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act was introduced to Congress by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, but it never reached the voting stage. Hopefully further efforts will be made to support survivors.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, we urge you to seek assistance. Hach & Rose, LLP understands how traumatic these experiences are and will handle your situation with the utmost care. To find out more about how we can help, schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced human trafficking attorneys at (212) 779-0057.

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