January 11, 2018 (San Diego): San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, San Diego County Public Defender’s Office, and Free to Thrive, a local non-profit organization that empowers survivors of human trafficking, today announced the successful use of a new law designed to clear convictions off the records of individuals who were victims of human trafficking. SB 823 passed in 2016 and provides for vacating non-violent convictions suffered by a victim of human trafficking that occurred as a direct result of their victimization. Such convictions often prevent victims of human trafficking from securing jobs, completing their education, and enrolling in programs like low-income housing. Last week, the third such a ‘vacatur petition’ was granted by a court in San Diego County. They are among the first petitions granted in the state of California.
“The best approach at giving survivors of sex trafficking a true second chance is to implement laws like this one that recognize their victimization and help them move on with their lives,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “The fact that these petitions are starting to be granted is an excellent example of collaboration between our office, the Public Defender, and community groups that support victims like Free to Thrive.”
One petition involved a young woman from San Diego who was trafficked by force for several years in and around San Diego County. At 16, she was lured away from her family and sexually exploited for the benefit of her traffickers. Her traffickers used narcotics as a means of coercion and control. After nearly six years of exploitation, this courageous victim finally escaped from her traffickers and began the long road of healing from the trauma she experienced. She eventually obtained her G.E.D. and went to college, where she is now on the Dean’s Honor List.
She had been convicted of felony drug and theft charges during her victimization. A vacatur petition drafted by attorneys at the non-profit Free to Thrive was submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for review and was granted on December 13 by San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael T. Smyth, Criminal Presiding Judge.
“Victims of human trafficking who were prosecuted for offenses committed while they were manipulated, controlled, and abused by their traffickers have criminal records which create barriers to employment, housing, education, and other forms of civic engagement,” said Chief Deputy Public Defender Kate Braner. “Their criminal records are a constant reminder of the trauma they suffered, and a source of continuing humiliation each time a former victim applies for a job. Fortunately, these vacatur petitions give survivors hope. San Diego County is taking the lead in California in our collaborative efforts to help survivors turn their humiliation into hope.”
“This young woman is working to move forward with her life and hit numerous roadblocks due to her criminal record. She had received numerous job offers, but each time a potential employer learned she had a criminal record the offer was rescinded,” said Jamie Quient, President and Managing Attorney of Free to Thrive. “It’s so important that we work hand in hand with community organizations, law enforcement, government agencies, and law firms to ensure human trafficking survivors can be free from exploitation and become thriving members of our community.”
During the 2015-2016 legislative session, numerous bills were introduced in support of California’s fight against human trafficking. Many of the bills that were enacted focus on protecting and assisting human trafficking survivors as they recover from their trafficking experience. SB 823 was supported by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, which helped draft amendments to the bill.
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