Gillibrand, AG Letitia James support bipartisan bills to aid human trafficking survivors

Photo via facebook @SenKirstenGillibrand
U.S. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand joins New York State Attorney General Letitia James, at left, to call for non-violent criminal convictions of trafficking survivors to be cleared so they can rebuild their lives without a criminal record.

On Feb. 16, 2022, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced her support of the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act and Put Trafficking Victims First Act — two bipartisan bills supporting human trafficking survivors.

Sen. Gillibrand, via a video press conference, was joined by survivors of sex trafficking and anti-trafficking activists, including Shandra Woworuntu, founder and C.E.O. of Mentari, which supports survivors of abuse and exploitation; and Alexi Meyers, director of Anti-Trafficking Policy at Sanctuary for Families and the co-chair of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition.

In 2020, the U.S. had over 11,000 reported cases of human trafficking. New York State was number four on the country’s list of highest reported cases.

“Human trafficking is a horrific form of slavery that affects thousands of people across this country and hundreds in New York. All too often, victims of human trafficking are forced by their captors to commit crimes with no freedom to refuse and face criminal charges,” Gillibrand said.

These two bills would aid in identifying and rescuing survivors, support recovering survivors, and strip back barriers to better collect data on human trafficking.

“These bipartisan bills will be the most powerful legislation to end human trafficking by learning the pattern of the trafficker and perpetrator through the data, practicing the non-punishment principle by treating victims as a victim in the justice system through the training and tech assistant,” Woworuntu said. “This bill will address the impunity, the demand and grassroots of trafficking.”

The Put Trafficking Victims First Act would give the attorney general and law enforcement the proper training to provide trauma-informed support to survivors of human trafficking, who are often traumatized and left distrustful due to their experience with violence. This bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Marco RubioR-Fla.

The legislation (S.3643) would establish an expert working group to identify the methodological barriers hampering data collection on human trafficking and submit a report to Congress within three years.

Additionally, the Put Trafficking Victims First Act will direct the U.S. Attorney General to submit a report to Congress within one year on efforts to increase mandatory restitution orders and to provide restitution to trafficking victims.

The bill will encourage states to adopt rights and protections for victims; including access to housing, trauma-informed care, implementing better screening mechanisms for children entering child welfare services, creating state-level vacatur laws, and developing a state 24-hour emergency response plan to provide victims with immediate protection and support when they are first identified.

“The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act will give the freedom path to trafficking survivors to experience full freedom and give them the ability to express their freedom through their life after trafficking,” Woworuntu added.

The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act (S.895) would create a federal law to vacate and expunge non-violent criminal charges to survivors of human trafficking. This bill is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Robert Jones Portman, R-Ohio.

This law would assist certified criminal or immigration court proceedings or law enforcement records demonstrating that the individual was a victim of trafficking at the time they were charged with the trafficking-related offenses.

The bill will also include testimony or sworn statements from a trained professional staff member of a victim services organization, an attorney, member of the clergy, a healthcare professional, a therapist, or another professional from whom the person has sought assistance in addressing the trauma associated with being a victim of trafficking.

“Congress has a responsibility to end these injustices and clear non-violent criminal convictions of trafficking survivors so they can rebuild their lives without a criminal record,” Gillibrand said. “These bipartisan bills would help accomplish this goal and would also improve data collection on human trafficking to better identify patterns and provide a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach to recovery.”

“As a former prosecutor here in New York and an advocate for survivors with Sanctuary for Families, I have worked with many victims of sex trafficking who have been arrested because of their victimization.  These criminal convictions effectively bar access to employment, education, housing, and impact immigration status,” Meyers said.

“It is essential that the federal system also enact Senator Gillibrand’s law to vacate and expunge criminal convictions of individuals who are victims of trafficking.”