Today, Reps. Burgess Owens (UT-04) and Ted Lieu (CA-33) introduced the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2022, bipartisan legislation to give survivors a path to clear their criminal records of non-violent offenses committed as a direct result of having been a victim of trafficking. The bill only affects federal offenses and builds on similar laws in at least 30 states, including Utah. Reps. Ann Wagner (MO-02) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) are original cosponsors of the legislation.
“Human trafficking is a horrific crime that denies freedom to roughly 15 million people worldwide,” said Rep. Owens. “While in captivity, victims are often coerced into breaking the law by their traffickers, leaving them with lifelong criminal records and hurdles to employment and education opportunities. My new bill, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2022, creates a commonsense pathway to vacate non-violent offenses committed as a direct result of having been a victim of trafficking. All victims of human trafficking deserve to feel safe and supported as they heal, and this bipartisan legislation is critical to addressing current barriers in our legal system.”
“Survivors of human trafficking should not be forced to shoulder the burdens associated with non-violent offenses committed as a result of their trafficking,” said Rep. Lieu. “Often, survivors are charged with non-violent crimes such as conspiracy, drug trafficking, prostitution, and related offenses that impact them for the rest of their lives, compounding the trauma of their experience. Our bill would provide post-conviction relief for survivors, freeing them to pursue employment, education, and safe housing. These important steps toward recovery would allow survivors to begin healing and rebuilding their lives. As a member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, I am committed to improving outcomes for all survivors of violence and look forward to seeing this important bill passed into law.”
“Far too often, victims of human trafficking are forced to engage in criminal activity against their will,” said Rep. Wagner. “These vulnerable individuals are then trapped in a cycle of exploitation, unable to access safe housing, gainful employment, and other necessary resources through no fault of their own. I am proud to partner with Congressman Owens and my colleagues across the aisle to advance this critical legislation that will allow survivors of this horrific crime to break free from exploitation and begin a new life.”
“The trauma of human trafficking should not be reinforced by forcing survivors to live with convictions on their record that occurred while the crime against their freedom was being perpetrated against them,” said Rep. Jeffries. “Though it can never undo the pain experienced in the first place, this bill can help survivors of human trafficking pursue employment, education and housing. I thank Rep. Owens for his strong leadership on this issue, as well as my colleagues Reps. Lieu and Wagner for their work on this important, commonsense legislation.”
“As a former prosecutor, I can tell you that we must channel resources and refine the focus of our law enforcement officers and prosecutors who work with victims of sex trafficking,” said Brett Tolman, former U.S. Attorney and Executive Director at Right on Crime. “We need mental health experts and victim advocates, and we need to take a different approach to these types of cases so that more victims are willing to come forward- to have a conversation and a dialogue that occurs which empowers and enables them to have the strength to be able to navigate our criminal justice system. We also don’t want the justice system to cause more harm to victims already traumatized by these human traffickers. We have a long way to go, but the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2022 is a step in the right direction to help these survivors bring violent criminals to justice.”
“My trafficker forced me into situations where I easily could have been arrested, but I complied because I knew it was a matter of life and death,” said Julie Whitehead, Sex Trafficking Survivor and Advocate. “I knew if I didn’t do exactly what my trafficker told me, he would make good on his threats and kill me or someone I loved. This bill would be life-changing for victims and survivors of trafficking. Almost every decision we make is to help us survive, and we should not be punished or held accountable for having made the decision to live.”
“A federal vacatur law provides an opportunity for survivors to overcome their past and move forward with a clean slate. This bill provides that opportunity while still restricting expungement of violent crimes and crimes against children. While the evidence standard is high, this still provides a much-needed path for those coerced into committing crimes while they were victims. A federal vacatur law would also serve to motivate states to follow suit. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation urges passage of this much needed legislation.” – National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE)
“A federal criminal record can be devastating for people who have broken free from their traffickers only to find that their victimization remains a barrier to their true freedom. We look forward to working with Congress to pass the best possible legislation to clear a pathway toward healing for all survivors of sex and labor trafficking.” – Polaris
Background on the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2022:
Under this law, a court would have the authority to vacate a conviction or expunge an arrest for a nonviolent federal offense committed as a direct result of the person having been a victim of trafficking. The bill is narrowly tailored to ensure violent offenses and offenses against children are not eligible to be vacated.
A court may only grant a motion to vacate a conviction or expunge an arrest where a victim shows by clear and convincing evidence that the offense was committed as a direct result of having been a victim of trafficking.
Any victim seeking relief under this law must provide supporting evidence to the court and the government can respond.
The legislation is supported by The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), Polaris, National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), and Shared Hope International.
The full text of the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2022 is available here.