VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Survivors of human trafficking may have their convictions expunged from their records.
Olivia is a survivor of human trafficking and is now advocating for other trafficking victims.
At 18-year-old, an abusive relationship turned into criminal acts and sex trafficking, Olivia said during the ‘No Longer Seen as the Criminal: A Personal Story of Expunging Convictions from a Trafficking Survivor’s Record’ panel discussion hosted by the Robert Nausbaum Center at Virginia Wesleyan University.
If she refused to listen to her traffickers, she was beaten, starved or manipulated. For about a decade, she was charged with prostitution and drug charges.
“The prostitutions, as you call them, are not doing this because they want to,” Olivia said. “Someone is making them do this, which means that they are a victim and not a criminal.”
In recent years, she has fought to get a law passed in Virginia to help survivors. In 2021, then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam passed a law to help survivors clear their record of charges like sex trafficking and prostitution.
“I was surprised,” Olivia said. “I almost didn’t believe it because Virginia is so hard with criminal records, laws and bills being passed. It was so long and it was so many times they brought a bill and they denied it. It was really long winded. When it finally happened, I was really excited, especially even more excited because I was a part of it and I fought for it. It was important to me.”
Meg Kelsey, the Assistant Director of the Center for Global Justice at Regent University School of Law describes her client Olivia as ” incredibly strong.”
“We rejoice in the win but we also recognize there is a path forward that we need to make way for others like Olivia,” Kelsey said.
“Virginia, historically, has the most difficult places to get a second chance when it comes to criminal records,” said Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi.
Olivia believes more legislation is needed to truly help survivors.
“It’s a great start for prostitution and residing in a bawdy place,” Olivia said. “I feel like we’ve gotten our foot in the door. Its going to be a little bit easier for us to more legislation on this bill, but I think that we’re on the right path. I don’t think it will happening overnight, but I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. I want to be apart of it. …
“If I’m helping even just one person or I can let one person know, ‘I know how you feel,’ or I know what you’re going through, it makes it worth it for me.”
Safe House Project has free human trafficking awareness training available.