In addition to the abuse, coercive control and manipulation victims of human trafficking routinely face, many victims are arrested and convicted for crimes they are forced to engage in by their traffickers. This is particularly true for victims exploited through commercialized sex, who are commonly arrested for the crime of prostitution. Forced to endure both the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction as well as the stigma of having participated in behavior much of society considers morally reprehensible, these victims remain extremely vulnerable to further exploitation and often continue to be involved in prostitution even after having escaped a trafficker.
In response to this injustice, the Maryland legislature passed a law allowing survivors of sex trafficking to vacate their prostitution convictions, affirming the widely-spreading notion that survivors of trafficking should be treated as victims, not as criminals. As the second state in the country to enact such a law, Maryland has the potential to be a leader in the movement to improve access to justice for trafficked persons. Nonetheless, not a single motion to vacate has been filed since the law was enacted in October of 2011, and very few advocates working with at-risk populations are even aware of the law’s existence.
My audacious idea is that we commit to educating our community partners and fellow advocates about the law, with the goal of having Maryland’s vacating convictions law utilized state-wide! In doing so, we can help provide trafficking survivors with the emotional fresh start they deserve, while ensuring that they will no longer be prevented from moving forward with their lives because of convictions stemming from acts they were forced to commit. The existence of the law is not enough; concrete action must be taken to help survivors gain access to this incredibly progressive form of legal advocacy.