In the Know: A Survivor's Perspective---Vacating Criminal Records & What Needs To Be Done

I can’t tell you how important being able to vacate criminal backgrounds is for victims of human sex trafficking. Many who have been forced into this life have been to jail. Going to jail is part of being prostituted.  Prostitution is illegal in almost every state. As a country we have chosen to punish the victims more than the perpetrators. Historically when the police have found 2 people engaging in prostitution, they would only arrest the prostituted, slap the wrist of the John or consumer, and tell him to go home. Unfortunately this practice has left the prostituted with large criminal backgrounds. To this day many communities still use the practice of arresting the victims instead of the Johns and/or perpetrators claiming they are trying to reduce the problem of prostitution in their jurisdiction.

 We don’t talk about this issue. It is easier to believe that one is a victim if they have had no involvement in the criminal justice system. Things tend to become more complex for us if they have. We wonder why these victims were not “saved” by the police. We wonder why they were not recognized, or able to escape. There are too many questions and doubts, so we tend to not talk about this part of the “life”. We don’t want to believe that we punished a victim further. We do want to believe that one can step out of this life, rehabilitate themselves, and carry on as if they had never been violated. They can start their lives over and do anything they want, the world is theirs, but unfortunately this is very far from the truth.

Criminal backgrounds stand in the way of a survivor getting housing and employment. As a society we are beginning to understand that prostitution is not a victimless crime. It is closely interrelated and overlaps with sex trafficking. In some cases prostitution and sex trafficking are one in the same.  We see the manipulation, abuse, and fear pimps drill into the minds of their victims. We are starting to recognize the invisible chains victims are bound with. As we see the phenomena of a trauma bond, we are beginning to understand the dynamics of mental force and coercion. This bond takes hold of the victim assuring that person cares more for the pimp more than for themselves. Going to jail repeatedly for the pimp becomes a selfless way to prove the victims love for that pimp. This is how many victims end up with huge criminal records that follow them for the rest of their lives.  

There are different ways to address this issue. A victim can go to each state they were arrested in and request the court vacate their charges/convictions in that state. This is a long process as each state can take between 2 to 2.5 years to complete the application process to the court. If a person has convictions in 4 states for example, it could take 10 years to clear their record. Currently in the United States there are only 14 states that will let adults apply to vacate convictions. We are getting more and more states adopting “Safe Harbor Laws” which include being able to vacate charges/convictions, but Safe Harbor laws only apply to minors, and they won’t help a person with convictions in the past. Safe Harbor Laws are a great start and will help those from this day forward, but our country needs to come up with a better way to solve this issue.

One way to better solve this issue is to create uniform laws in all 50 states as to the vacating of a victim’s criminal record. Currently each state has the privilege of determining how long they will hold a person’s background against them. For example in the state of Minnesota a criminal background is held against a person for 10 years, but in Arizona, a background is held against that person for 99 years. Many people do not know this. A person living in Arizona is given a life sentence. I am a prime example of this. I am living in an apartment that is not in my name because I didn’t qualify under the guidelines of this apartment complex. I am also having a hard time finding employment. I was hired by the state of Arizona, and was terminated in 30 days due to prostitution convictions I received in 1980 – 1983 (during my trafficking experience) that showed up with my fingerprint application for a clearance card. In Arizona you need this card to work with people. My college degree is in Social Work.  I was hired by a behavioral health agency in Tucson AZ. I completed all of my paperwork and was waiting for a start date. I was completely honest about my background in the interview. They waited for 60 days to leave me a message stating they were rescinding their job offer. This can be very traumatizing for a survivor and another violation. I share my personal story so you can see that this DOES affect survivors in a very real way. We can go from being functional citizens to “criminal status” according to which state we live in. This policy needs to change.

I ask you to help me STOP THE LIFE SENTENCES. Help by finding and evaluating the laws and policies about vacating convictions and backgrounds in your state. Talk to your Congressional representatives. Tell them about Uniform Law, and ask them to draft legislation for your state. Be aware of this while working with victims that have been prostituted/sex trafficked, and help them get past this so they too can improve their lives.

Some of us have lost our liberties. We were arrested for crimes that are no longer viewed as such. We now understand that our liberties were removed when we were trafficked.  It is acknowledged we were subjected to force, fraud or coercion that allowed our fellow man to rape, hold hostage, and abuse us for another’s monetary gain. I hope to inspire legislation that allows ALL victims of trafficking to vacate their charges no matter what state they live in to establish justice, ensure tranquility, promote our welfare, and reinstate our civil liberties as afforded to us in the Constitution of the United States of America.



   We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." — Preamble to the Constitution

Beth Jacobs speaking at a TAT Coalition Build in South Dakota. Beth Jacobs is the founder and Executive Director of Willow Way in Tucson, AZ.

Beth Jacobs speaking at a TAT Coalition Build in South Dakota. Beth Jacobs is the founder and Executive Director of Willow Way in Tucson, AZ.


WILLOW is survivor lead & survivor driven. We understand the importance of survivor participation in the healing process. We want to lead by example. Modeling to victims that they are able to change their lives and become successful. WILLOW doesn't just talk the talk, we walk the walk. Mission To Support, Empower, and Promote Healing for Victims Escaping Prostitution/Sex Trafficking 

WILLOW is survivor lead & survivor driven. We understand the importance of survivor participation in the healing process. We want to lead by example. Modeling to victims that they are able to change their lives and become successful.
WILLOW doesn't just talk the talk, we walk the walk.

Mission

To Support, Empower, and Promote Healing for Victims Escaping Prostitution/Sex Trafficking