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Bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduce bill to help human trafficking survivors

<i>Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call

By Annie Grayer, CNN

GOP Rep. Russell Fry of South Carolina led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in introducing a bill on Tuesday to create a federal law that would help survivors of human trafficking expunge their criminal records for crimes committed as a direct result of being a victim, according to a copy of the legislation provided first to CNN.

The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act would help eliminate the barriers that exist for survivors of human trafficking with a criminal record from re-entering society.

While most states have laws that provide a way for trafficking survivors to clear their records of offenses that resulted from being trafficked, no statute exists at the federal level. The legislation would create a process for survivors to defend against any prosecution for criminal activity they were coerced into committing and provides critical relief for survivors who have already been convicted. The bill would also require each United States attorney to submit a report to the attorney general detailing the number of vacatur or expungement petitions filed within one year of the legislation being enacted.

“I am proud to introduce legislation that provides critical relief to victims who unjustly incurred criminal records as a result of having been a victim of trafficking,” Fry said in a statement provided to CNN. “There are currently almost 30 million victims of human trafficking across the globe, and the grave reality is that it’s happening right here in our own communities in the United States.”

Along with Fry, GOP Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri and Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu and Robert Garcia of California have sponsored the legislation.

“Human trafficking survivors deserve the opportunity to heal from the trauma of their experiences,” Lieu said. “They should not be haunted by a criminal record that they got as a result of being exploited.”

Wagner added, “Far too often, traffickers force their victims to commit crimes against their will, trapping them in the illegal sex trade. This vital, bipartisan bill will ensure that these vulnerable individuals can access the resources they need to begin a new and safer life.”

And Garcia said he joined in co-sponsoring this legislation because it provides victims of trafficking “the compassion and justice they deserve.”

Previous versions of this legislation have been introduced twice before, but a source familiar with the process told CNN the House co-leads have been in communication with the Senate and are expecting it to be introduced in the upper chamber soon.

There are a number of outside groups that also support this bill, including the National Survivor Law Collective Policy Group, Free to Thrive and Hope for Justice.

Hollie Nadel, a leader in the survivor community said in a statement to CNN that there is a “vicious cycle” that survivors endure as the result of their criminal records, making steady employment, qualifying for housing, or obtaining financial assistance “nearly impossible.”

“Survivors of trafficking have faced insurmountable mental and physical pain, and financial distress during their victimization. We see a myriad of examples where traffickers force victims under duress and coercion to commit crimes,” Nadel said. “Legislation like TSRA is critical to help stop the cycle of further victimization and essential to allowing survivors to rebuild their lives for a safe and successful future.”

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