Barbara Amaya’s website lists her as a “survivor, author, advocate and speaker” of human trafficking. As a guest speaker at the ArtWorks for Freedom benefit last weekend, Amaya courageously spoke about her experience being “raped, beaten robbed, jailed and even taken to Riker’s prison” as an underage child while under the control of a pimp. Amaya also spoke about the difficulties of trying to vacate her criminal record that she got while being trafficked. Drug convictions as a minor can make a survivor ineligible for student loan programs and federal employment. Often times survivors of human trafficking are unable to create a better future for themselves due to inability to secure funds for higher education. Don’t Minor Criminal Records Disappear at age 18? It is a common misconception that criminal records for minors are automatically expunged once the minor turns 18 years old. In reality, minors with criminal convictions must petition a judge to have his or her record sealed which is both a timely and costly procedure. There are also a few restrictions to those who can apply to have their records sealed: the crime must have taken place over 5 years ago; the minor can not be convicted in an adult court and records can not be sealed for violent crimes the minor committed at age 14 or younger. If the survivor is currently on probation, convicted of a felony or a “misdemeanor involving moral turpitude” or had the unfortunate luck to be transferred from a juvenile to adult criminal court then the records remain unsealed.
Expunging Adult Records Only seven states allow victims of human trafficking to expunge their criminal records of crimes committed while under control of a pimp. New York, Washington DC, Maryland, Illinois, Vermont, Nevada and Hawaii all have passed legislation in the past two years allowing victims of human trafficking to vacate their prostitution records. Victims of human trafficking that are not from any of those seven states often face prostitution charges that follow them through life and bar them from gainful education and employment opportunities. Yet many times trafficked women are convicted of crimes other than prostitution such as possession of drugs that remain on their record even if the prostitution conviction is expunged.
Re-Traumatizing Human Trafficking Victims Women who are lucky enough to escape their traffickers face uphill battles trying to reintegrate into a society that treats them as criminals. Applications for jobs, loans and higher education often ask the applicant to disclose any prior convictions and are rejected when the applicant checks the yes box. A clean record for all victims of human trafficking will allow them greater access to jobs, education and housing, but also enable them to heal by being treated as victims and not criminals. Until the rest of the states pass legislation to treat survivors of human trafficking as victims and not criminals, the laws that are supposed to protect victims end up re-traumatizing the survivors through banishment of employment, education and housing opportunities.