Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced legislation to Congress that would assist victims of human trafficking by cleaning up their criminal record. As a result, the Senate passed a major bill on human trafficking under Shaheen’s direction, this week.
Shaheen felt inspired to initiate legislation after hearing about an anonymous young woman’s experience as a victim of human trafficking. The 24-year-old victim faced difficulty clearing her name of prostitution charges after recovering her freedom.
In an interview with NPR, she said:
"I'm not ever going to forget what I've done or what I've gone through. But at the same time, I don't want it thrown in my face every time I'm trying to seek employment," she said. "I don't want to have to explain myself every time."
Generally, sex workers are often more stigmatized than pimps or johns. Additionally, this taboo societal outlook applies to victims of trafficking who do not voluntarily participate in sex work. Victims should be able to receive health care and have access to resources, not have a criminal record following them for the rest of their life. This sort of attitude implies blame on the victim, when, in actuality, they are not at fault.
Jessica Emerson, the lawyer who helped to clear the woman’s criminal record, is now assisting about seven other victims in Maryland alone. She believes this amendment was a great help, especially for victims who did not realize they had the option to clear their record.
As Emerson stated to NPR, there is much more work to be done. Providing resources, listening to victims’ needs, and proactively combating trafficking should be a political and personal priority.