Assisting Human Trafficking Survivors

Posted on February 8, 2018

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By Tiffney Love

I was attending a press conference for Human Trafficking Awareness month in January 2017, simply acting as an observer. At the time, no one knew I was there from South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS). However, I quickly learned just how much of an impact SCLS is having in the fight against human trafficking. While no one from SCLS was scheduled to speak at the press conference, there was constant mention of the work done and reference to our services. It was evident that our work spoke for itself.

Human trafficking is certainly not new to South Carolina.  However, more individuals and organizations have decided to join together in ending trafficking, thereby bringing more awareness to the issue.  Minors are often the focus of traffic prevention organizations, as the average age for a victim to be forced into trafficking is the ages of 12 and 16. Adult women, however, are more likely to obtain prostitution, shoplifting, and drug related convictions as a result of being trafficked. When these survivors are finally able to escape their traffickers, their criminal records hinder the process of healing and rebuilding that must occur if they are to be successful.

SCLS obtained the first expungements for a human trafficking survivor in South Carolina under 2016 revisions to the Human Trafficking law that allow for prostitution convictions to be expunged. Recognizing how criminal records serve as a barrier and cause constant victimization of survivors, the Employment Unit of SCLS has developed a streamlined process for record clearing. The criminal record clearing process for victims of human trafficking became a learning experience for everyone involved. It was necessary to form partnerships with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the South Carolina Attorney General, local sheriffs, solicitors and judges. Where the law was vague, offered no relief, or was nonexistent, we simply drafted motions asserting what we believed justice for the victims would look like.

We have been able to assist women that have been hindered by trafficking to continue their journeys to pursue their aspirations. We obtained expungement orders for these women. In addition, we have obtained the expungement of convictions that weren’t explicitly covered by the human trafficking statute. Obtaining positive outcomes has required us to deviate from the traditional process of obtaining expungements. Sometimes helping victims requires us to ask courts to reopen convictions in the interest of justice and seek the convictions vacated.  By reaching out to many individuals, partnering with law enforcement agencies, and exploring various avenues of relief.  Our persistent efforts finally reached other likeminded individuals who recognized the importance of ending this form of re-victimization.

The positive words at that January 2017 press conference foreshadowed the awesome strides that SCLS is making in assisting the victims of human trafficking who can’t speak for themselves. We will continue to fight for survivors and help them rebuild their lives free of coercion and abuse. I look forward to January 2019—the next Human Trafficking Awareness Month—and reporting on all the progress and amazing developments that SCLS is a part of in the struggle to end human trafficking in our state.

The Employment Unit at SCLS is available to conduct clinics focused on removing barriers to employment. These clinics may be sponsored by various civic, social or faith groups throughout the state. If you are interested in having an expungement clinic conducted in your area or would like to give a referral regarding a human trafficking survivor, contact Tiffney Love at tiffneylove@sclegal.org.

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