A bill to help survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday and is on its way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
“Everyone deserves a fair chance and everyone deserves justice,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation in our state need every possible barrier removed from their path to a better life, and this law will help do that. No matter what has happened to them in the past, these girls, boys, women and men deserve a chance to move on.”
Senate Bill 5272 allows a person to vacate a conviction for prostitution even if he or she has committed other crimes since the date of conviction, provided those crimes were the result of a prostitution-related offense or being a victim of trafficking. This bill clarifies steps to vacate a conviction not made plain in previous legislation. Without this clarity, all attempts to vacate convictions by survivors to date have been denied. The ability to vacate these convictions is a key component in fighting trafficking, as barriers to necessities like employment and housing put survivors at a higher risk of being exploited further.
“Sadly, the average sex trafficking survivor is 15,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, sponsor of the companion bill in the House (House Bill 1112). “These young girls and boys are doubly victimized, first from having to recover from the horrific nightmare of being abused in the sex industry, and then from having to face numerous barriers as they try to rebuild their lives. We need this bill to help remove hurdles so they can obtain housing and employment, and begin to heal as they find their place in the community.”
Criminal records, even for those who have been exploited or trafficked, can often make it difficult to find a job, rent an apartment or apply for essential services. More than a quarter of trafficking victims globally are children, and roughly 55 percent are women and girls. Data shows most individuals involved in prostitution start as teenagers, some estimates as young as 13.
The bill passed the state Senate unanimously and the House nearly unanimously. Once signed by the Governor, the law will take effect within 90 days.