Hawaii has just become the sixth state to pass a law which will allow victims of human trafficking to expunge their records of prostitution related offenses. The law is an attempt to support victims of sex trafficking as they attempt to re-integrate. As we all well know…employers are unlikely to higher individuals with a criminal conviction record. Particularly with a record of prostitution convictions. Employers have already proven they rarely ask nor care to hear the details behind that conviction and understand that it may have been a situation of slavery; including elements of control, coercion, and manipulation. Therefore we look to states passing these laws to ensure individuals who had been trafficked for sex are provided with the support necessary to thrive. I must note that I feel strongly that we should not refer to these individuals as victims, but instead as survivors. However, when we speak in terms of laws and policy surrounding this issue, ‘victim’ is often the identifying term.
As noted in this Washington Times article, Dr. Lederer recognizes that “a provision in the law that vacates prostitution or other related convictions for trafficking victims is important because when a trafficking victim is rehabilitated and applies for a job, her arrest record may come up in a background check.”
New York was the first state to pass a ‘Vacating Convictions Law’. A memo written by the Sex Workers Project in New York City titled ‘Vacating Criminal Convictions for Trafficked Victims’ goes into depth about the necessity for expungement laws. It also addresses the challenges faced by victims of sex trafficking without these laws in place. This memo discusses issues that I find incredibly relevant when discussing the development of vacating convictions laws for trafficking victims. Particularly how each state must contend with different political environments, different laws around prostitution and trafficking, and different existing remedies for persons with criminal convictions. There will never be one model that fits each state. Instead legislators must utilize existing laws and use critical components of those laws while creating legislation for their state.