Women’s Fund Supports Set Aside Bill for Survivors of Sex Trafficking

Each month, hundreds of people in Nebraska are sold for sex without their consent, often multiple times. Sex traffickers force their victims to do illegal things to survive, like exchange sex for money. This issue is widespread with more than 90 percent of sex trafficking survivors reporting being arrested for crimes related to their trafficking. As a result, many trafficking survivors are arrested, tried and convicted for crimes they were forced, coerced and manipulated into committing.

New legislation introduced by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks in the Nebraska State Legislature today would allow trafficking survivors to come forward with their criminal records and apply to have convictions of crimes they were forced to commit set aside and the public records sealed. This means that prior convictions would be voided from the survivor’s criminal records and all records of the conviction are sealed. In order to set aside convictions, trafficking survivors would prove to the court that they were sex trafficked and that the crime they committed was directly linked to being sex trafficked.

“Because sex trafficking is still an issue that is widely misunderstood, survivors are regularly convicted of crimes they were forced to commit during their trafficking,” said Meghan Malik, Women’s Fund of Omaha trafficking project manager. “As we continue to learn more about sex trafficking in our state, the survivor leaders have identified post-conviction relief laws a crucial next step in ensuring that trafficking survivors have real opportunities to rebuild their lives and achieve economic self-sufficiency. This bill is one step in the right direction towards providing a legal environment that accounts for the unique realities that survivors of sex trafficking face.”

In a survivor-informed study in Nebraska, “Nothing About Us Without Us,” local sex trafficking survivors stated that paramount is the need for their records to be cleared of any criminal charges, given that they were trafficked and did not willingly participate in commercial sexual exploitation. Unjust criminal records harm survivors of sex trafficking. Background checks can prevent those who are no longer being trafficked from successfully securing housing, employment and education. The stigma survivors carry because of their criminal records makes it significantly harder for them to re-integrate into society.

“A widespread tactic among traffickers is manipulating their victims into fearing the criminal justice system. Through continued coercion, survivors come to believe the system is stacked against them and that it’s best to plead guilty to charges, most commonly related to prostitution and drug offenses,” said Malik. “It can take years before trafficking survivors escape the abuse of their traffickers.”

Last year, Senator Pansing Brooks introduced LB 289 to increase penalties for trafficking and solicitation of individuals who have been trafficked. The bill passed the Nebraska State Legislature with a vote of 48-0.

“One of the three goals of the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force is to help survivors. Now is the time for the legislature to pass a law that supports trafficking survivors in rebuilding their lives,” said Senator Pansing Brooks. “The Set Aside Bill provides survivors of sex trafficking a pathway to rebuild their lives without the burden of a criminal conviction. Remember, these are victims of trafficking who are forced into illegal activities by the heinous demands of their traffickers and buyers. I want to thank the Women’s Fund for their vision and passion to help our state’s most vulnerable.”

In addition to continuing to advocate for effective policy solutions, the Women’s Fund is committed to a comprehensive approach to ending sex trafficking, including strengthening survivor leadership, creating cross-sector coalitions, increasing education and awareness, and enhancing service provider capacity.

To stop trafficking, community-wide action is needed. If you see something, say something. Call the Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.