COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Wednesday, survivors of human trafficking and their advocates are celebrating a legislative victory.
Senate Bill 4 will allow survivors of trafficking to expunge their records of most crimes that can be linked back to trafficking. This clarifies opportunities the Safe Harbor Act intended to grant survivors when it was enacted six years ago.
While the Safe Harbor Act was a step in the right direction, its expungement provision was too ambiguous. Some courts interpret the Safe Harbor Act in a way that only allows survivors to expunge three prostitution-based crimes. In reality, survivors are often forced to participate in a broad range of illegal activity — from drug offenses to theft — for traffickers’ financial gain. This can result in hundreds of convictions.
Now, survivors will be able to avoid some of the barriers created by lengthy criminal records. They’ll be able to find meaningful employment, suitable housing and opportunities for furthering education.
The Ohio Justice & Policy Center worked for three years on legislation to clarify the opportunities for survivors of human trafficking to expunge and seal criminal records.
Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, and Sen. Scott Oelslager, R-North Canton, sponsored Senate Bill 4. The bill first passed through the Senate with a unanimous vote more than a full year ago.
Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, read a statement from a human trafficking survivor during Wednesday’s discussion of the bill. The survivor described the “transformative” experience of getting her criminal record expunged.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Fedor said. “It’s a comprehensive combatting of something so evil in our society. This can’t stop at the ‘R’ and ‘D.’”
Ohio Justice & Policy Center Deputy Director Sasha Naiman works directly with survivors of human trafficking through the Safe Harbor program. She says this legislative win will help her clients immensely.
“Now, our Safe Harbor clients can finally have a true second chance,” Naiman said. “They can reclaim their lives and become full members of the community. They can remove the shackles of human trafficking. And OJPC is very excited and ready to help them do that.”