Trafficking Survivor’s Crimes Vacated in New York
Victims of human trafficking often find themselves in positions where they’re forced to commit crimes.
There’s prostitution, of course—trafficking victims are sometimes caught by police and charged with prostitution.
But sometimes victims are forced by their captors to commit other crimes, like recruiting other victims, or theft. For example, some girls are expected to bring in a certain amount of money every night. If meeting that quota means stealing (from johns or other people), they’ll do it.
Those are just a few more obvious crimes victims of trafficking can be made to commit and charged with. Sometimes, they do time in prison. Sometimes, it’s a lot of time.
But if they’e being coerced—threatened, brainwashed, or abused verbally or physically (all of these are common in cases of trafficking)—they shouldn’t be held responsible for these crimes. If you ask me, all their crimes should be charged to their traffickers.
In September 2014, in New York, the largest number of offenses ever was vacated from a trafficking survivor’s convictions: 122.
Vacated: Latin for “it is vacated.” A rule or order that sets aside a judgment or annuls a proceeding.
The survivor, referred to as “M” in a recent report, is a client of Weil (who published the report). Weil provides legal services and representation in 20 offices worldwide, nine of which are in the US. Weil’s team worked as co-counsel with Sex Worker’s Project in New York, who work to reduce human trafficking while ensuring willing sex workers have the rights to work their chosen careers safely.
M had spent 17 years as a victim of human trafficking. During that time, she was controlled by two different traffickers. Also during that time, she was convicted of about 130 offenses in four different counties. A few of “her crimes” included prostitution, larceny, and loitering.
New York passed a statute in 2010 that basically says if a “defendant’s participation in the offense was a result of having been a victim of sex trafficking,” their convictions can be vacated.
And all but eight of M’s were.
This is a big deal. It sets a high precedent for not holding victims and survivors accountable for the actions of their traffickers and pimps, or for being essentially enslaved by them.
The New York courts who granted the vacaturs recognized that many of the crimes M committed were done “under the coercion, and for the benefit, of M’s traffickers.” That’s why non-prostitution related crimes were vacated, as well as prostitution-related ones. Their intention was to help M have the best possible circumstances for recovery.
Every survivor of human trafficking must deal with trauma in their own way. But we can and should provide as much support as possible and, at the very least, not convict them of crimes. I imagine that having to deal with a lot of legal mess and accusations only complicates a healing process that should be supportive.
L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.
© L. Marrick 2014. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.