New law allows human trafficking survivors to clear their records

Gov. Kathy Hochul signs the START Act into law.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signs the START Act into law.
Don Pollard/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul signs the START Act into law.

New law allows human trafficking survivors to clear their records

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act, legislation supported by more than 100 organizations.
November 17, 2021

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that will clear the records of survivors of human trafficking for past convictions resulting from their exploitation, drawing praises from survivors, advocates and lawmakers across the state. 

Until Hochul signed the Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together(START) Act on Tuesday, survivors only could petition to clear convictions for prostitution. Hochul’s approval of the START Act now allows survivors to clear themselves of other offenses they had been forced into committing by their traffickers. 

The new law had support by more than 100 organizations, as well dozens of survivors from New York. “The signing of the START Act, allows me to vacate my final conviction and gives me freedom from my captors and a fresh start for me in life, by allowing me to move on and be truly free and without bondage to a criminal record,” said Ricardo C. in a statement released by the New York Anti-trafficking Network. 

Jillian Modzeleski, senior trial attorney in the Women’s Defense Project at Brooklyn Defender Services called the legislation “a critical step in undoing the harm of criminalizing survivors of human trafficking.”

The anti-trafficking network points out that race, poverty, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status all play into who is criminalized by traffickers, while criminal records further worsen barriers to housing, education, employment, child care, and healthcare. “Signing this bill into law is one tangible solution towards addressing a real problem, the criminalization of people who experience violence, especially those who are Black and brown,” said the network in its statement. 

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in the network statement that survivors “enmeshed in our criminal legal system for offenses they were compelled to commit by their traffickers” resulted in “neither dignity nor justice.”  

“With the START Act signed into law, our state can now allow survivors to dismantle barriers to employment, housing, and education that remain for a lifetime, and protect non-citizen survivors, for whom a criminal conviction can have devastating immigration consequences, including deportation and family separation,” she added. “Now, New York can prioritize stability over stigma.”

Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard Gottfried insisted that "trafficking survivors are not criminals.” 

“Thanks to Governor Hochul, more trafficking survivors can build productive lives, and be protected from being deported for their earlier convictions," Gottfried said. "Thank you to Senate sponsor Jessica Ramos, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and the many advocates for helping to get this important human rights bill signed into law."

Ramos noted the bill’s signing into law comes during National Transgender Awareness week. 

“The notion of building visibility around the structural challenges experienced by trans and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers has to be more than a gesture. We have to legislate in a way that honors and protects their rights as members of our community,” she said. “The START Act gives survivors of trafficking the fresh start they deserve – lessening the barriers to employment, improving access to appropriate immigration legal remedies, and helping break cycles of trauma for thousands of survivors across our state.”
 

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