Press Release: Bill for criminal record relief for trafficking survivors passes Senate Codes 8-4-1
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S04981/A06983, a bill to expand criminal record relief for trafficking survivors, passed the Senate Codes committee today with a vote of 8-4-1. Survivors frequently have drug, larceny, trespass and other charges on their record as a result of their exploitation and should not have to “prove rehabilitation” to clear these charges.
New York, NY -- In early April, Decrim NY, a 30+ organization coalition working to decriminalize, decarcerate and destigmatize the sex trades in New York city and state, introduced a bill to expand the relief available to human trafficking survivors with criminal records resulting from their exploitation. Senate Labor Committee Chair Ramos and Senate Women’s Health Committee Chair Salazar and Assembly Health Committee Chair Gottfried are leading sponsorship of the bill (S04981/A06983). Today, the bill passed out of Senate Codes committee with a vote of 8-4-1. Senators Andrew Lanza, Thomas O’Mara, Patrick Gallivan, and Phil Boyle voted no. Senator Brian Benjamin abstained. The bill will advance to the floor for a vote.
In 2010, New York State became a national leader when it amended its Criminal Procedure Law to allow survivors of trafficking to vacate their “prostitution-related” convictions. While this was a good first step, it still means trafficking survivors are criminally prosecuted for a wide range of offenses—including drug, larceny, trespass, and other offenses—they were forced to commit and have no way to clear such offenses from their records. New York now lags behind many other states in its record relief policies for survivors.
“Most importantly, this bill builds on earlier efforts to correct shortcomings in the law by making it clear that survivors do not need to show that they have been “rehabilitated” to be eligible for record relief,” says Kate Mogulescu, Assistant Professor of Clinical Law at Brooklyn Law School, Director of the Survivor Reentry Project, and member of Decrim NY’s Policy Working Group. “In our bill, convictions are vacated ‘on the merits,’ which is a recognition that trafficking survivors should not bear the weight of criminal records for offenses they were compelled to commit in the first place.”
In addition to expanding record relief, the bill also protects the confidentiality of documents filed in court and permits the consolidation of cases from different counties.
“I was a victim of human trafficking for many years, and I was convicted of many crimes as a result of my traffickers,” said Ana*, a member of Decrim NY. “While the court cleared my prostitution offenses, I still have four non-prostitution-related offenses that remain on my records. Despite decades of activism and organizing for the safety of our Translatina communities, these four offenses prevent me from safely applying for a replacement green card and becoming a naturalized citizen. The burden of having a criminal record is heavy.”
“In our service provision, we see trafficking survivors who have a variety of offenses on their criminal record they were forced to commit, and that record remains with them long after the exploitation has ended,” said Aya Tasaki, Manager of Policy and Advocacy at WOMANKIND and member of Decrim NY’s Steering Committee. “Criminal records stigmatize and isolate people from their communities. They limit access to housing, employment, social services, immigration pathways. They prevent survivors from moving on with their lives. We urge legislators to move this to a floor vote and pass this bill now.”
“Criminalization is a root cause of trafficking. It is not uncommon for trafficking survivors to get re-trafficked because they walk out of an exploitative situation with access to resources limited by their criminalization,” Jessica Raven, former survival sex worker and member of Decrim NY’s Steering Committee. “We rarely hear about what happens to survivors after they exit a trafficking situation, but it is key to preventing further exploitation—do they have access to housing, healthcare, a stable income? A criminal record often blocks access to these critical resources.”
“Vacating survivors’ records will remove a real barrier to seeking alternative employment and will ensure they cannot be trafficked again. The passage of this bill in the Senate Codes Committee today is a monumental step in protecting victims of trafficking. We must pass this bill this session. Survivors of sex trafficking and labor trafficking should not have to wait any longer,” said Senate Labor Committee Chair and bill sponsor Jessica Ramos.
“It’s unacceptable that in 2019, New York is still criminally prosecuting trafficking survivors and burdening them with criminal records. Today's vote to advance record relief in the Senate Codes Committee means New York is one step closer to dismantling the devastating cycle of violence and incarceration that's all too familiar to trafficking survivors across our state, and which disproportionately impacts marginalized communities including LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, immigrants, and people of color. I’m proud to support this effort and look forward to bringing it to the floor with my colleagues,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chair and bill co-sponsor Brad Hoylman.
“It makes common sense that convictions committed while under a trafficker’s control should be vacated. We call on our colleagues to bring this bill to a vote in floor so we can support victims of trafficking in moving on with their lives,” said Senate Women’s Issues Committee Chair and bill sponsor Julia Salazar.
“Trafficking survivors are not criminals,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard N. Gottfried. “New York’s 2010 vacatur statute was a national model, but it still leaves too many survivors prosecuted for other offenses that labor and sex traffickers force them to commit. The bill would also allow judges to vacate prior convictions without the victim needing documentation proving they were victims of trafficking. The vacatur bill has passed the Assembly the last two years and I’m hopeful that our new Senate Majority will help us make it law.”
“The criminal legal system targets LGBTQ communities, making them vulnerable to violence,” said Audacia Ray, Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at The New York City Anti-Violence Project and Decrim NY Steering Committee member. “Criminal record relief for trafficking survivors is especially important for LGBTQ people as police often identify them as assailants rather than as survivors.”