Projects, Units & Initiatives
Exploitation Intervention Project
The Exploitation Intervention Project, founded in 2011, is the first effort by a public defender office to address the systemic criminalization of victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. EIP has advocated for thousands of clients, providing direct representation and comprehensive services to Legal Aid’s clients charged with prostitution-related offenses and trafficking survivors facing prosecution for other offenses in New York City. Our city-wide interdisciplinary team includes five attorneys, a social worker/mitigation specialist, a paralegal/case handler, and as of 2019, an immigration attorney.
Even before COVID-19, our clients lived on the margins. Some have low wage jobs and live paycheck to paycheck, and since the pandemic began, these jobs have all but evaporated. Those we serve lost their jobs, fell behind in rent, struggled to feed themselves and many do not qualify for government measures such as unemployment or stimulus checks. For our undocumented clients the situation is perhaps even more dire.
In April, EIP began an emergency fundraising effort to support our vulnerable clients. Through the generous donations we received we have been able to help clients keep the power on in their apartments, have kept phones in service for clients whose phone is their sole contact with the outside world, and have provided money for food, medication, and emergency shelter. This effort is ongoing – if you would like to support our work please make a donation to EIP’s emergency fund by clicking here.
Since its inception, some of the most impactful work the Exploitation Intervention Project has done is through our post-conviction advocacy representing trafficking survivors seeking to vacate criminal convictions pursuant to New York State’s vacatur law, Criminal Procedure Law Section 440.10(1)(i). This law allows survivors of trafficking to vacate prostitution-related convictions directly tied to their trafficking. While survivors face many challenges in rebuilding their lives, the stigma of a criminal record imposed for acts in which they were compelled to engage is particularly burdensome as it impedes survivors’ ability to obtain stable employment and housing, and is a constant reminder of their exploitation. EIP is proud to have helped change the lives of 115 survivors by assisting them in vacating over 1,800 convictions directly tied to their trafficking.
In June 2018, the Exploitation Intervention Project launched a client Advisory Board-the first of its kind within a defender organization. The creation of the Advisory Board came out of a study published in 2017 by EIP and the Urban Institute that explored the needs of EIP clients and the challenges these clients face within the criminal legal system. The report recommended a number of reforms and interventions. One recommendation was to integrate survivor consultants or peer-mentors into organizations that represent criminalized people in the sex trade. Shortly after, EIP began plans to establish an oversight committee, or an Advisory Board, made up of former clients committed to seeing themselves and EIP grow.
EIP’s 4-person Advisory Board is a collaboration– together, Staff and Members address strategic decisions about EIP’s post-conviction representation, engagement with outside organizations, and policy efforts. As directly-impacted people, Members are best equipped to guide EIP’s response to clients engaged in the sex trade, while radically improving and altering the traditional structure of a legal service project. Although the shut-down of the Legal Aid offices caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Advisory Board to meet remotely, it has not stopped the vital work of the Board. Remotely the Board has continued to meet on a monthly basis, has contributed to EIP trainings and community engagement, and began a new mentoring program for post-conviction clients.
The Exploitation Intervention Project works with trafficking survivors to help them vacate prostitution-related convictions and seal the records of those arrests. If you were convicted of a prostitution-related offense when you were under the age of 18 or if your conviction was the result of force, fraud, or coercion, you may be eligible to have your record sealed.
To find out if you are eligible to have your prostitution-related convictions vacated and the records sealed, contact Leigh Latimer at 646-385-5025 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Scholar & Feminist Online: Labels, Supervision & Surveillance: Motherhood & Sex Offender Status