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For Immediate Release:Contact:Sienna Baskin (646) 602-5695 sbaskin@urbanjustice.org
Thursday, June 16, 2010orAnna Deknatel (646) 200-5311 

NY State Senate Passes Legislation Allowing Survivors of Sex Trafficking to Clear Prostitution Convictions

Sex Workers Project - Bill Co-Author - Applauds Landmark Effort to Give Trafficking Victims a Fresh Start

(New York City, June 16, 2010) - Late yesterday, the New York State Senate passed legislation, already approved by the Assembly last month, to allow survivors of commercial sex trafficking to clear their records of prostitution-related crimes by vacating their convictions. Governor Paterson is expected to sign the bill (A.7670/S.4429) into law, amending New York State Criminal Procedure Law.

The vote came the day after Secretary of State Hilary Clinton released the State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons" report, which for the first time included an assessment of trafficking in the U.S. and acknowledged the U.S. as "a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor, debt bondage, and forced prostitution."

"All too often, victims of sex trafficking are arrested for and convicted of prostitution-related crimes long before they are able to exit their coercive circumstances," said Sienna Baskin, staff attorney at the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center.  "This landmark legislation will allow these survivors to start over with a clean slate. By leaving behind any criminal record, they can avoid undeserved red flags and any stigma associated with their past exploitation. New York is creating a model that will help stop the justice system from treating these survivors as criminals. The rest of the country should follow New York's leadership."

Victims of trafficking who will benefit from the legislation include Maria, a client of the Sex Workers Project. Originally from Central America, Maria moved to New York with her fiancé, who quickly became abusive. In 12 years of marriage, he physically, sexually, and psychologically abused her and eventually forced her into prostitution. Maria was arrested over eight times; a Spanish speaker only, she never understood her rights. After her husband Jorge disappeared in 2005, Maria became a recognized victim of trafficking and was granted a T-visa. She began a career as a home health attendant, employed by the Department of Health (DOH); five years later, the DOH ran her fingerprints and terminated her upon discovering her criminal record. Although she was finally reinstated three years later, without the passage of this bill, Maria will continue to have to disclose her criminal record to future employers. In addition to the professional barrier, that experience remains psychologically traumatizing for Maria.

"Victims of sex trafficking who are forced into prostitution often are saddled with a criminal record," said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, the bill's author. "Even after they escape from trafficking, that criminal record blocks them from decent jobs and a chance to rebuild their lives. This bill will give them a desperately needed second chance they deserve."

The Sex Workers Project helped Assembly Member Gottfried draft this bill to strengthen the protections for trafficked persons. He introduced the bill in the Assembly in April 2009; Senator Thomas Duane sponsored the legislation in the Senate.  Other supporters include the New York City Bar Association, the New York Anti-Trafficking Network, the Legal Aid Society, Polaris Project, the Juvenile Justice Coalition, the Door, Inc. and Sex Workers Action New York.

"Our clients include women trafficked into commercial sex who were arrested more than 10 times. Their fears of retribution prevented them from informing law enforcement about their exploitation," added Baskin. "A criminal record for prostitution is a barrier to their recovery, especially when a potential employer asks these survivors to explain their convictions. These women have suffered enough and simply want to move on with their lives— by finding a good job and a safe place to live, or applying for immigration status. With that economic security, we believe this bill will help these women escape being victimized or coerced again."

Founded eight years ago, SWP provides legal services to people who are in the sex trade by choice, coercion, or circumstance. Clients of the Sex Workers Project include sex workers and survivors of trafficking from within and outside of the United States.