VACATUR IS FREEDOM!
Summer 2019 Vacatur Update
In May, SSUSA’s vacatur bill LD 1381, An Act to Create a Post-Judgment Mechanism to Provide Relief for Victims of Sexual Exploitation & Sex Trafficking, went up for a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee. Survivors and supporters spoke eloquently about the need for a ‘clean slate’ for survivors of sex trafficking and sexploitation. There were many bills before the Committee this session dealing with review of criminal records—including ours, bills addressing adult records, juvenile records and marijuana-related charges. The decision of lawmakers, in discussion with SSUSA leadership and others present, was to form a Criminal Records Review Committee to deal with questions of sealing and vacatur for a range of criminal charges. SSUSA will be one of the organizations at the table and integral to the Committee’s process going forward who represent directly-impacted Maine people.
The Committee is required to submit recommendations to the legislature’s joint standing Judiciary Committee by December 4th, 2019. You can read the full resolve and details here. SSUSA will keep supporters updated as the Committee digs into its work. Vacatur remains a top policy priority for our organization.
What is vacatur?
It is a form of post-conviction relief. It is a superior form of relief to granting a pardon, because vacatur does not convey ‘forgiveness’ for committing a crime, but rather acknowledges survivors should never have been treated as criminals in the first place. Vacatur shows there are no criminals among us, only survivors. You can read more about the importance of vacatur laws here.
Why is vacatur important to survivors?
Even after escaping traffickers & lives of daily exploitation, many survivors confront barriers to building positive futures. The result of such barriers means survivors often become Forgotten Women who cannot fully participate in mainstream society, often languishing in shelters, campsites & jails. Vacatur is a clean slate & a new beginning.
Convictions impact every aspect of life, including:
o Employment: Discrimination and prejudice in hiring put many jobs that pay a living wage out of reach, keeping survivors stuck in low-paying positions without benefits. This makes it harder to raise children in safety & security & makes them vulnerable to further exploitation.
o Housing: Certain types of convictions—especially involving drugs—can limit a survivor’s eligibility for housing assistance programs. This barrier can keep survivors locked in poverty & housing instability long after they escape ‘the life’.
o Education: Many survivors would like to continue schooling to enter professional career fields. However, eligibility for many forms of federal student aid are negatively impacted by certain criminal convictions.
o Family: Many members of SSUSA are mothers parenting school-age children. Due to their criminal records, many moms often are excluded from volunteering in their children’s classrooms or attending school field trips as a chaperone.
o Community: The unjust stigma of being a survivor with a criminal record prevents many survivors from fully participating in social life with neighbors and community members. Some experience prejudice and mistreatment while seeking to regain parental custody because they are viewed as criminals, rather than loving parents who have survived extreme trauma.
What was SSUSA’s bill LD 1381 trying to accomplish?
LD 1381 from the 129th Maine state legislature sought to create a path to vacatur for people who have been subjected to human trafficking, as defined by Maine statute, and people who have engaged in prostitution due to their history of trauma, ACES, substance use disorder, and other circumstances of victimhood and oppression.
The bill would allow the people described above to apply to the courts to have their criminal convictions vacated. The crimes eligible for vacatur would include convictions that sexploited people are often charged with, including prostitution, trespassing, drug possession, weapons possession, and other crimes. The convictions should be vacated if the person applying for vacatur can show a connection between their having been subjected to human trafficking or their having engaged in prostitution because of their history of trauma, ACES, substance abuse disorder, or other circumstances, and the crimes for which they were convicted.