Legal Aid Society


LAS Surpasses 2,000 Convictions Vacated for Victims of Trafficking

The Legal Aid Society announced that its Exploitation Intervention Project (EIP) has successfully vacated over 2,000 convictions for victims of human trafficking throughout New York City, as reported by the New York Daily News.

Most of these convictions were prostitution-related offenses but with the expansion of New York State’s vacatur law through The Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act, survivors of labor or sex trafficking can vacate any criminal conviction obtained as a result of trafficking.

Vacatur allows survivors to rebuild their lives, seek stable employment and housing, and heal without the constant reminder of their exploitation and the resulting criminal convictions. Prior to November 2021, New York State only permitted vacatur of prostitution-related convictions. However, after five years of advocacy by survivors and advocates, Albany expanded the statute, allowing trafficking survivors to clear any criminal conviction related to their trafficking. New York now has one of the most progressive vacatur statutes for survivors in the United States.

“Vacatur is transformative, and hundreds of New Yorkers who have suffered immensely from trafficking have had their lives changed for the better because of these statutes,” said Leigh Latimer, supervising attorney of the Exploitation Intervention Project at The Legal Aid Society. “This result would not have been possible without the tireless advocacy of those directly affected, who fought for years to secure these reforms, and Legal Aid will continue to employ the law to secure our clients the justice they deserve.”

Among the trafficking survivors that EIP has helped, is M, an undocumented woman in her mid-50’s, was brought to the U.S. by her abusive husband and trafficker, with whom she shares four children. M’s husband/trafficker was physically and verbally abusive. M’s husband trafficked her into forced criminality, threatening her with deportation and the loss of their children if she didn’t participate in his criminal schemes. M was arrested and pleaded guilty to felonies in New York and New Jersey for crimes her trafficker forced her to commit.

A bench warrant was issued for M in the mid-90’s. For over 20 years she lived in the shadows, constantly afraid of being arrested and deported. In 2021, she reached out to Legal Aid to help vacate her warrants and start over. Just weeks after the START Act passed, M had her felony conviction vacated under the new law. Prior to the START Act being passed, she would not have been eligible for relief. EIP continues to represent M, helping her attain legal status in the U.S.