January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York joined 29 Jewish organizations around the country to issue a statement of guiding values on ending human trafficking—also known as modern-day slavery—throughout the U.S. and abroad.
For the final eight days of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month we invite you to read our series of blog posts highlighting each of the Jewish values included in the statement and how they motivate us to work toward the end of slavery and human trafficking.
Value 5: Survivors of trafficking are not criminals.
Survivors of sex trafficking are often arrested, convicted, and incarcerated on charges of prostitution, or held accountable for crimes committed while they were being trafficked. We must treat these survivors with care, not criminalization. Undocumented survivors of human trafficking are blindly targeted for deportation, often without regard for the crimes committed against them. Undocumented survivors must be treated with justice by law enforcement.
by Jamie Allen Black
While this sounds like it should be an obvious statement, unfortunately that is not always the case. Trafficking victims are often arrested and convicted for crimes they were forced to commit while in their trafficking situations such as working without licenses, prostitution, etc. The convictions create long-term barriers for victims working to rebuild their lives.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Rob Portman and Representatives Ann Wagner, Tulsi Gabbard, and David Jolly introduced the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act. The bill allows courts to erase federal criminal convictions of trafficking victims for non-violent crimes their traffickers forced them to commit. This legislation prevents trafficking victims from continuing to be victimized by their traffickers, even after they are physically free.
Convictions, and even an arrest record, can cause a lifetime of limited access to opportunities such as jobs, loans, education, housing, or visas. Traffickers will sometimes force their victims to commit crimes as a way to further victimize them. This bill recognizes that trafficking victims are in fact victims, and particularly when non-violent crimes are the issue, they should receive protection and support, not punishment.
Simply removing a victim from their trafficking situation is not enough. Our justice system needs to provide victims with the tools required to help them rebuild their lives.
And then we each need to look at our own assumptions about immigrant labor, prostitution, and more. We need to see who these people are as individuals who may need our assistance. Here’s an article about Uber Driver Keith Avila who overheard his passenger’s conversation, recognized trafficking and coercion, and watch his Facebook Live post minutes after contacting the police: