Press release: Gottfried bill expanding protections for trafficking survivors passes Assembly

June 14, 2019

A landmark 2010 New York law lets victims of human trafficking get prostitution-related criminal convictions erased if the convictions directly resulted from the trafficking.  On June 13, the Assembly passed a bill, A. 6983A, to broaden the law to apply to other convictions.  The bill is sponsored by Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried and Senator Jessica Ramos.  Gottfried was the author of the 2010 law.  Over twenty-five states have since followed with similar laws.

The bill expands the law to let the judge, after giving the district attorney a chance to be heard, vacate the conviction for any crime that resulted from being trafficked.  It protects the confidentiality of the court papers involved, and makes clear that the conviction will be vacated based on the circumstances of the offense rather than relying on a victim’s post-conviction “rehabilitation.”

This bill also protects trafficking victims by strengthening protections so that a vacated conviction is not used against a trafficking victim in federal deportation cases.

The companion bill, S. 4981 sponsored by Senator Ramos, is on the Senate floor and expected to be voted upon soon.

“Trafficking survivors are not criminals.  People enslaved by traffickers should not suffer the burden of convictions for crimes they were forced to commit,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard N. Gottfried.  “New York’s 2010 law was the first in the country and became a national model.  Now several states have gone further, aiding survivors prosecuted for other offenses that labor and sex traffickers force them to commit.  This bill will help more trafficking survivors build productive lives, and will protect many of them from being deported for their earlier convictions.” 

“Fundamentally, trafficking survivors should not have records for crimes they were compelled by their traffickers to do,” said Nina Luo, organizer at VOCAL-NY and member of Decrim NY’s Steering Committee. “Records impede people’s access to housing, employment and immigration status.  Especially under Trump, who has launched an all-out assault on immigrant communities, we cannot wait another year to make this bill into law.  The Assembly did their part to protect trafficking survivors.   We’re looking to the Senate next.”

“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,” said 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 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, and immigration pathways.  They prevent survivors from moving on with their lives.  We urge legislators to enact this bill.”

“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 vacatur bill has the support of:

Adalah Justice Project

Black and Pink

BYP100 Action Fund

The Center for Constitutional Rights

The Center for HIV Law and Policy

Chief Defenders Association of NY

Color of Change

Cornell Gender Justice Clinic

Decrim NY

Gay Men’s Health Crisis

Girls for Gender Equity

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders

Highlander Center

Lambda Legal

LatinoJusticePRLDEF

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

The LGBT Bar Association of New York (LeGaL)

National Black Justice Coalition

The National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NYC Office)

National Lawyers Guild – NYC Chapter

National Lawyers Guild – Queer Caucus

National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

National Trans Bar Association

National Women’s Law Center

New York Anti-Trafficking Network

New York City Bar Association 

New York Civil Liberties Union  

New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition

Polaris

Progressive Doctors

Public Health Justice Collective

Reframe Health and Justice

Sanctuary for Families

Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Section, American Public Health Association

St. James Infirmary

Stonewall Democrats

Transgender Law Center

Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund

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