Trauma recovery, especially for people who have experienced ongoing terrorizing physical and sexual violence, is an arduous and painful path. The seemingly insurmountable roadblocks when attempting post-trafficking recovery is no exception. Victims of human trafficking, as a result of their trauma, often suffer from anxiety, panic disorders, depression, eating disorders, intrusive thoughts (e.g. flashbacks and nightmares), avoidance or numbing of trauma-related stimuli (e.g. avoiding certain places, people, and situations), hyper-arousal, difficulties controlling emotions and/or concentrating, suicidality, and alterations in consciousness (dissociation disorders). It should be no surprise to learn, given the long list of negative and pervasive intrusions trauma brings, that many victims of trauma have used, or been forced to use, drugs and alcohol to cope. Substances offer a perverse freedom from the overwhelming feelings trauma brings, only to add to the long list of recovery work.
Suffice it to say, trauma recovery takes incredible resilience and bravery. But that’s not all. Beyond the therapeutic and chemical dependency recovery processes, victims of trafficking must also face the poverty-inducing effects of their resulting criminal records. One common experience is participation in other criminal acts when they were under the control of a pimp or trafficker. Some run drugs because it provides another, less violent, means of meeting quotas set by their trafficker. Others face criminal convictions for public intoxication, loitering, theft, breaking and entering, domestic violence charges and others.
Their resulting criminal record hinders victims from getting housing, employment, getting a loan, or from adjusting their immigration status. Their criminal convictions are used against them during child custody hearings. Essentially, although they were victims of a crime, they continue to pay the dire consequences for the crimes they committed under duress. They are re-victimized. Making escape from exploitation extremely daunting.
Recently, Washington State introduced HB 2668 that expands HB 1292, which allows victims of human trafficking to petition a judge when certain conditions are met to clear their criminal records of prostitution-related convictions. Current law limits the ability for this vacation of convictions only when the offender has committed no another crime. This new bill proposes the removal of the stipulation of no other criminal acts and provides an important pathway for those who committed an offense as a result of being a victim of trafficking.
Last month at the public hearing, several trafficking survivors testified:
“But I found what was happening is I couldn’t find a job, I couldn’t get an apartment,” she said. “I had a kid that I was trying to fight and get back, but those charges just didn’t look good for me.”-SH “If you talked to my sister right now she would say,’what’s the point? I’ve been in over half my life, look at this list of charges.’ She’s been under the control of pimps since she was 14. So why get out now,” -SH “It’s really sad to get a call from a fellow survivor who is doing amazing, that’s crying and crying saying, ‘I can’t get a job that pays a living wage because of my convictions,’” -JM
Other survivors have spoken out similarly:
“I’m thinking I’m going to hit [the convictions] and it’s going to just knock me back down…People in my life today have no idea of where I’ve been. And I’d like to keep it that way. It’s none of their business.”– MR “We can’t get jobs. It ruins our lives,”- LC “People judged you. It was very shaming,” said another survivor of how it felt to constantly get rejected from jobs for which she was often overqualified.
Washington State has led the way with anti-human trafficking legislation. We were first in the nation with anti-trafficking laws and still have some of the most comprehensive anti-trafficking laws. This legislative support allows direct service providers more flexibility, and it gives survivors more hope.
Please show your support and ensure your legislators know you want convictions for prostitution removed from survivor’s records if they’ve been victims of trafficking.
SB 5277 Often, men who buy sex do so knowing that there’s a likely chance that the women involved in prostitution are under the control of a pimp and trafficker. In fact, one study found that 66% of sex buyers observed that a majority of women are lured, tricked or trafficked into prostitution, yet the consequences of using exploited people in Washington have only resulted in a simple misdemeanor.
The Washington State has been pursuing curbing demand for commercial sex by shifting the focus from prostitution-related crimes to policing and prosecuting purveyors of sex and those demanding it. SB 5277 proposes to increase the offense’s maximum penalty from a simple misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor which may result in 90 - 365 days in jail.
Please show your support and ensure your legislators know you want increased penalties for sex buyers.
Currently, the sessions are out, but please help promote these so they are prioritized during the next session.