Legal Aid Society

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 gender-based violence. EIP has advocated for thousands of clients, providing direct representation and comprehensive services to Legal Aid’s clients charged with offenses related to sex work and survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence facing prosecution for other offenses in New York City. Our city-wide interdisciplinary team includes five criminal defense attorneys, a social worker/mitigation specialist, a paralegal/case handler, and as of 2019, an immigration attorney.

START Act Passed

New law allows trafficking survivors to vacate ALL convictions related to their trafficking

On November 16, 2021, the START Act was signed by Governor Hochul. The START Act expands and improves New York State’s vacatur statute by allowing trafficking survivors to request the dismissal and sealing of any type of criminal conviction that occurred as a result of their trafficking. New York now has the most comprehensive remedy for survivors who were forced by their traffickers to engage in criminal offenses. Labor trafficking survivors, who were previously locked out of criminal record relief because dismissal and sealing were limited to prostitution offenses, will now be able to seek this critical remedy which now allows all trafficking victims to move on without the burden of a criminal record. See the “Contact” section below for information on who to contact if you think you are eligible to have your record sealed.

Walking While Trans Ban Repeal

On February 2, 2021, the New York legislature repealed the loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute, commonly called the “Walking While Trans Ban.” This means loitering for the purposes of prostitution is no longer a criminal offense in New York, and the records of past convictions will be sealed automatically. Learn more here.

Partnerships: EIP’s Advisory Board

In June 2022, the Exploitation Intervention Project’s Advisory Board will celebrate its fourth anniversary. The Advisory Board – the first of its kind within a defender organization – 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 the integration of survivor consultants or peer-mentors into organizations that represent criminalized people in the sex trade. Shortly after, EIP began plans to establish an Advisory Board, made up of former clients committed to seeing themselves and EIP grow. EIP’s 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 pandemic has forced the Advisory Board to meet remotely, it has not stopped the vital work of the Board. Over the course of the past two years, the Advisory Board has expanded its reach and the scope of its work by: speaking on a panel at the national Freedom Network USA annual conference, presenting to New York State judges, meeting with legislative representatives, training local service providers working in New York City’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, collaborating with the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution, and meeting one-on-one with new EIP vacatur clients. In January 2022 the Advisory Board welcomed four new members and we look forward to the growth and expertise these new members will bring.

Standing with the AAPI Community

Over the past two years, there has been a surge in harassment against the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Community. More than 9,000 hate incidents were reported between March 2020 and June 2021 across all 50 states. An unknown number of attacks went unreported. Everyone working in a massage business has legal rights, regardless of the type of work being done. You have the same rights and deserve the same respect as any other worker. Read our full legal resource here.

同心合力, 저희가 기억하고 잊지 않겠습니다, Pagkakaisa Laban sa Karahasan.

EIP’s Client Support Fund

Even before the COVID pandemic, 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 2020, 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.

To help keep the fund strong, two EIP team members, Ryan and Cate, volunteered to run the NYC Half Marathon on March 20, 2022. Funds raised will support both EIP’s Client Support Fund and the Advisory Board. To make a donation, click here.

Our Impact

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, as expanded by the START Act, allows survivors of trafficking to vacate all criminal 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 126 trafficking survivors by assisting them in vacating almost 2,000 convictions. See the “Contact” section below for information on who to contact if you think you are eligible to have your record sealed.

Contact

The Exploitation Intervention Project works with trafficking survivors to help them vacate convictions related to their trafficking 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 have any type of conviction that 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 trafficking-related convictions vacated and the records sealed, contact Leigh Latimer at 646-385-5025 or lelatimer@legal-aid.org or Shakisha Vaughan at 646-784-5118 or svaughan@legal-aid.org.

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