ALBANY, NY (May 6, 2021) – Yesterday, the New York State Assembly passed the Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act, S.674 (Ramos)/A.459 (Gottfried), a critical bill that would help survivors of labor and sex trafficking move forward with their lives. This will allow trafficking survivors to overcome previously insurmountable barriers to securing stable housing, employment, and social services access so they can move on with their lives.
The START Act has now passed the Assembly five times and has 30 Senate co-sponsors. Nearly 100 groups have signed a letter urging legislators to pass this vital legislation, including groups that advocate for racial justice, gender justice, immigation justice, survivors of violence, LGBTQ+ rights, and civil rights. Now that the START Act has passed in the Assembly, the Senate must immediately pass the bill, which would finally allow all victims of human trafficking to seek criminal record relief. We thank Assembly Member Gottfried for his tireless leadership and for standing in solidarity with survivors of human trafficking, working to provide them a fresh start.
Not only is the START Act critical to trafficking survivors, it is an important step in reconsidering how the criminal legal system punishes survivors of violence. Over 75% of incarcerated women are survivors of violence, many of whom are incarcerated for defending themselves. Race, poverty, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status are all factors in who gets criminalized, and criminal records only exacerbate barriers to housing, education, employment, child care, and healthcare. Survivors of violence are frequently revictimized by the carceral system after surviving harrowing experiences. Passing this bill is an important step to a more equitable system.
“We applaud the Assembly for passing this critical legislation that will allow all survivors the opportunity to vacate convictions for crimes they were forced to commit. This law is especially crucial for labor trafficking survivors who, under current policy, cannot petition to vacate crimes they were forced to commit as a result of their exploitation,” said Amy Fleischauer, LMSW, Director of Survivor Support Services, International Institute of Buffalo.
N.R., a survivor and activist, describes how her criminal conviction “posed a new obstacle to my immigration process and served as a constant reminder of my trafficking experience – another way my trafficker had marked me. We need to be able to clear the criminal records that hold us back. I thank the Assembly for passing the START Act. This law would mean that trafficking survivors can fully move on with our lives, get a fresh start and feel less alone. I hope the Senate also stands with survivors by passing the START Act now.”
“I applaud the Assembly for recognizing that anything less than clearing all convictions is partial. I have been dedicated to my recovery but I’ve learned life is not easy on the other side. I’m not looking for ‘easier’. I’m seeking a chance to compete without being saddled with convictions hanging over my head. I urge the Senate to bring this bill to a floor vote, ” said Natalie, a survivor.
Ricky, a survivor who has only been able to vacate some of his convictions, said “I have worked hard to regain my life, though the effects of being trafficked are not fully behind me. Even though the traffickers are gone, I still have to justify who I am and explain what this last conviction says about my character. Although it does not define who I am, because of that one conviction, I have to continuously relive it all. By not having complete vacatur, I feel as though I am being punished twice. I applaud the Assembly for standing with survivors and urge the Senate to do the same.”
“We are thrilled that the Assembly passed the START Act. At a time when so many are struggling to get by due to the pandemic, this bill would provide long overdue criminal record relief to survivors of human trafficking across our state—breaking down barriers to opportunities that would finally give survivors the fresh start they deserve,” said New York State Senator Jessica Ramos.
“Trafficking survivors are not criminals. People enslaved by traffickers should not suffer the burden of convictions for crimes they were forced to commit,” said New York State Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard N. Gottfried. “New York’s 2010 law was the first in the country and became a national model. Now, this bill takes another important step to help more trafficking survivors build productive lives and will protect many of them from being deported for their earlier convictions.”
BACKGROUND: New York could again be at the forefront of empowering survivors of trafficking by passing the START Act. The START Act would:
Allow survivors the opportunity to petition a court to clear convictions for all offenses that were a result of being trafficked,
Empower judges to evaluate evidence and decide whether relief is appropriate.
Extend relief to victims of labor trafficking and offer critical protections to immigrant victims.
Ensure survivors’ information is kept confidential.
The START Act would not change current prostitution or human trafficking laws, impact open criminal cases or convictions, or automatically clear any charge without careful consideration and input from prosecutors and judges. Website can be found here.
ABOUT: The New York Anti-Trafficking Network (NYATN) sheds light on the problem of trafficking in persons, with the goal of ending and preventing trafficking and providing survivors with the help they need to reclaim their lives and their voices. We leverage our collective expertise as lawyers, social workers, and policy advocates to change law and policy on trafficking. NYATN has provided direct legal and social services to several thousand survivors of human trafficking since 2002.