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Volume 36, Issue 2 (Spring 2014)

The Injustice of Convicting Sex Trafficking Victims: A Model Vacating Convictions Law
by Cassandra Lawrenson



This Note focuses on the prevalence of sex trafficking in the United States and the legal challenges victims face in their post-trafficking recovery.  This Note proposes a model vacating convictions law, which will allow sex trafficking victims to vacate prior nonviolent convictions where the crimes were committed as a result of sex trafficking.  This law is increasingly necessary in light of the United States’ acknowledgment that human trafficking exists in alarming numbers within its borders, and because of the failure of law enforcement to identify victims before they are prosecuted.


            Victims of sex trafficking are frequently forced to commit or engage in criminal activity.  These victims are not always identified as a victim, and they do not always expose their trafficking situation to the police for fear of retaliation from their trafficker.  Consequently, victims are often treated as criminals through arrest, prosecution, and conviction.  Even after they escape trafficking, their resulting criminal record hinders victims from getting housing, employment, or from adjusting their immigration status.  A vacating convictions law is necessary to allow victims to reenter society as productive individuals without discrimination as a result of their criminal record.  Such a law recognizes victims should not be held accountable for crimes they were forced to commit.


            Federal law has provided some relief to trafficking victims through funding victim services and allowing nonimmigrant victims to apply for a “T Visa.”  However, victims are often arrested and convicted of state rather than federal crimes.  It is imperative that states support victims by providing a strong vacating convictions law.  This Note proposes a model law that mandates a court to vacate a victim’s convictions for nonviolent offenses after they escape from trafficking, regardless of whether the victim has a separate criminal history or whether the victim can prove rehabilitation.  



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