NY Should Allow Trafficking Survivors To Clear Criminal Records

October 1, 2019

A good prostitution-related bill that passed the Assembly side of the NY legislature in June is still pending in the state Senate. This legislation — known on the Senate side as S981A — would fully vacate the criminal convictions of human-trafficking victims.

In 2010, NY became the first state to enact a law that allows human-trafficking victims to vacate certain criminal convictions related to sex work. This law was a good first step, but it didn’t go far enough to protect the rights and safety of trafficked individuals. While the 2010 law recognizes the social, psychological, and financial consequences of labeling victims as criminals, its scope is limited: The law allows only sex-related trafficking survivors to clear convictions — not consensual sex-work convictions, and not convictions for non-sexual forms of labor exploitation.

Human-trafficking victims are often arrested for offenses that extend beyond prostitution, such as drug possession, trespassing, or possession of a weapon. DSW General Counsel Melissa Broudo was featured in The New York Times in 2015 for her pioneering work in this field. Broudo contended that criminalization makes it more difficult for trafficking victims and consensual adult sex workers alike to build a life outside of the industry because of employment and housing discrimination. And convictions have especially severe consequences for non-citizens, because those convicted of prostitution-related offenses are often deported.

DSW enthusiastically supports the NY legislation, which was introduced by Jessica Ramos (D) on the Senate side. It’s vital to take a harm-reduction, human-rights approach when fighting for justice for trafficking survivors.

Sen. Jessica Ramos (D) and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried (D) speak about the bill they are co-sponsoring in Albany. (Photo: Danielle Blunt/Queens Eagle)

Demonstrators march in support of vacatur legislation in Jackson Heights, July 2018. (Photo: Andy Katz/Brooklyn Eagle)

The bill, as proposed in April (via NYSenate.org)