Survivors of sex trafficking are victims, not criminals

Posted by on September 17th, 2012 at 8:09 am

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.


3 thoughts on “Survivors of sex trafficking are victims, not criminals

  1. What are the steps that a person committed of a crime such as prostitution that they were forced to commit by the trafficker must follow to vacate this conviction? If many of those people who are victims of human trafficking are not U.S. citizens, can the Legal Aid Bureau provide legal assistance in vacating the conviction?

  2. Diana- the statute amends Title 8 of the Maryland Criminal Procedure Article, and the specific elements to be included in a motion to vacate can be found in § 8-302 of the code. As far as your question about the Legal Aid Bureau, the MD LAB provides representation in civil matters, not criminal. They can indeed represent undocumented citizens if they are victims of trafficking or domestic violence, but I do not know if that representation can extend beyond civil immigration relief in the form of U and T visas. Additionally, it is important to remember that although undocumented citizens are indeed exploited for commerical sex, so too are U.S. citizens, with the average age of entry into prostitution being approximately 14 years of age.

    Ryan- Maryland joins New York (the first state in the country to enact a vacating convictions law, and my home state!), Illinois, Vermont, Nevada, and Hawaii as the only six states in the country to offer survivors this form of relief! Quite an accomplishment, but much work to be done.

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