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PRESS RELEASE: Decrim NY intros bill to improve criminal record relief for trafficking survivors

For Immediate Release: Decrim NY introduces bill to improve New York’s criminal record relief for trafficking survivors

Contact: Nina Luo 636-288-8279 or nina@vocal-ny.org For comment from Senator Jessica Ramos: Julia @ 973-647-5922 or jarredondo715@gmail.com

For comment from Senator Julia Salazar: Michael @ 612-356-7160 or michaelcarter@salazarforsenate.com

For comment from AM Richard Gottfried: Mischa Sogut @ 202-365-5475 sogutm@nyassembly.gov

Decrim NY introduces bill with Sen. Ramos, Salazar and AM Gottfried to vacate charges for survivors who have criminal records as a result of being trafficked. Survivors frequently face drug, larceny, trespass and other charges as a result of their exploitation and should not have to “prove rehabilitation” to access remedies that let them clear charges from their records.

New York, NY -- Last week, 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 survivors of human trafficking 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).

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 survivors of trafficking are criminally prosecuted for a wide range of offenses—including drug, larceny, trespass, and other offenses—they were compelled to commit and have no way to clear such offenses from their records. New York now lags behind many other states in its vacatur 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 vacatur,” 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 vacatur, 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.”

“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.”

“The criminalization of sex work leads to impossible choices and lasting consequences for the victims of sex trafficking. It makes common sense that convictions committed while under a trafficker’s control should be vacated, and I’m proud to support this legislation as one step towards the decriminalization of sex work. While sex work is criminalized, human trafficking networks will continue to flourish and prey on our most vulnerable communities. It’s past time we brought people out of the shadows,” 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.”

“I have introduced a bill to vacate the records of survivors of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Vacating survivors’ records will remove a real barrier to seeking alternative employment and ensure they cannot be trafficked again because of their criminal record. I want to thank my neighbors organizing with Decrim NY for putting this bill forward and for fighting for a government that recognizes their rights and dignity,” said Senate Labor Committee Chair and bill sponsor Jessica Ramos.

Criminal record relief is especially important for communities of color and LGBTQ people, because they are disproportionately criminalized, including for self-defense against gender-based violence. Decrim NY is planning a mass legislative awareness day in Albany in May to advocate for the passage of this legislation and another bill to repeal the harmful loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute, which is used by NYPD to target, profile and harass trans communities.

“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.”

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