State Senator Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) praised the human trafficking survivors, survivor advocates and legal professionals who testified this week in support of Senate Bill 183, the Expanding Human Trafficking Justice Act, in front the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We need to put survivors of human trafficking on level footing with other victims of violent crime,” Senator Fedor said. “Too many victims have done jail time for their oppressor’s crimes. It is time for Ohio to protect victims of trafficking and stop treating them like criminals.”
The Expanding Human Trafficking Justice Act, which Senator Fedor introduced with state Senator Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), would remove the predicate offenses of solicitation, prostitution and loitering as requirements for survivors of human trafficking to be eligible to apply for criminal record expungement.
“I have seen too many times the feelings of hopelessness for these women when they are repeatedly denied an apartment, a new job or financial assistance for school because of their criminal charges. This is why expungement is a necessary opportunity for victims of human trafficking,” Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Jodi L. Thomas, who presides over the Franklin County CATCH Program, said in her testimony. “All victims deserve the opportunity to build a life for themselves and their children, not only those who have been criminally charged with soliciting.”
The bill would create a pathway to expungement for individuals who were forced to commit crimes while they were being trafficked. Survivors and advocates who testified Tuesday said this would eliminate barriers to housing, jobs and other resources, while creating opportunities for survivors who are working to rebuild their lives.
“Restoring survivors means providing pathways for them to obtain gainful employment via a livable wage. It means providing them access to safe and affordable housing,” Dr. Celia Williamson, executive director of the University of Toledo’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, said in her testimony. “These are fundamental necessities that, without passing this bill, become insurmountable barriers.”
State Representatives Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) and Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) have introduced companion legislation, House Bill 319, in the Ohio House of Representatives. The bill was referred to the House Criminal Justice Committee but has yet to have a hearing.
“We can’t continue to punish victims for experiences that they didn’t choose, especially after they make the brave decision to become survivors,” Haleigh Young, a survivor of human trafficking, said in her testimony. “By passing this bill, you can help provide victims and survivors with a better chance at the life they deserve. It is remarkable what survivors are capable of when given the opportunity to thrive.”
You can follow the progress of S. B. 183 here