Help for Survivors of Human Trafficking
The Ohio Justice & Policy Center has been at the forefront of statewide efforts to help survivors of human trafficking expunge criminal records. Sex trafficking is a growing problem in Ohio that impacts women, men, children, both domestic-born and foreign. The Safe Harbor Act allows survivors to wipe away and destroy trafficking-related records like prostitution and drug paraphernalia. OJPC has conducted multiple community-education workshops and presentations about effectively applying this new law. OJPC also offers survivors free legal representation for Safe Harbor Expungement cases. One such case about “Caroline” was featured in 2015 in CityBeat.
After Caroline moved to Cincinnati in her early 20s, a handsome, well-to-do bar-owner took an interest in her. He made her feel loved, supported, and special. What initially seemed like a fortuitous romantic relationship turned quickly into a nightmare. The man turned out to be a human trafficker who oversaw a network pimps and controlled multiple women. These women were forced to participate in commercial sex, transport drugs, and steal for the financial benefit of the traffickers.
Caroline was subjected to continuous physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. The pimps took all of Caroline’s money, kept her drugged up, and denied access to medical and social services.
There were terrifying repercussions if she disobeyed the pimps’ demands or tried to escape. All the time, Caroline felt scared and totally, hopelessly under the traffickers’ control. As a result, Caroline, along with other victims, accumulated long criminal records related to prostitution, drugs, and theft. After about 12 years, Caroline managed to escape with the help of a friend. She immediately underwent addiction treatment, received mental health services, and sought help from social workers. She went to college and successfully completed other job-readiness and professional-skills trainings. She racked up professional certifications, volunteered, and pursued many opportunities for self-improvement.
More than a decade after her escape, having lived a successful, law-abiding life, Caroline found the perfect job advertised by the City of Cincinnati. She thought it aligned ideally with her education and career goals–and the job interviewers agreed. But, due to her inability to pass the background check, the City regretfully was unable to move forward with hiring Caroline for the position. But, if Caroline could expunge her record, the job would be waiting for her.
Caroline met Sasha Naiman at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center’s Second Chance Legal Clinics. Sasha described the new Safe Harbor law to Caroline and represented Caroline through the expungement process. Caroline submitted a robust application in the Hamilton County Municipal Court–explaining her traumatic human trafficking story and showcasing her accomplishments since her escape. After a hearing, the court granted the expungement. Over 30 convictions, in over 20 separate cases, were permanently erased from Caroline’s record.
Where is she now:
After getting an expungement, Caroline was able to get her dream job with the City of Cincinnati. She was hired through Cincinnati Recreation Commission to be a Nutritionist and Recreational Leader for a program that serves seniors. Her employers were thrilled to make Caroline a part of their team.
Caroline confirms that the job is truly a perfect fit with her education, interests, and background. Caroline charts meals, helps plan and schedule activities for the seniors, and files program paperwork. She is eager to ensure that the seniors have an outstanding experience at the Recreation Center. Additionally, Caroline has mentored youth at the Recreation Center, helping with arts and crafts and tutoring math and reading.
“I’m there for them, listening to them, having conversations, playing games. Even when I’m getting off work, they ask me to stay,” she says.
Caroline explains that the expungement opened doors for her professionally. Not only was she able to get her dream job, but she has also received other job offers.
“I can go far if I stay with the city. I’m just thankful that I came here [to OJPC]. Getting an expungement was uplifting.”
When asked explain what an expungement allows sex-trafficking survivors to do, Caroline answered: “Live, live, live!”