VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – People forced into human trafficking are often forced to commit an array of crimes.
It could be prostitution, theft or selling drugs.
Now a Regent University program is looking to help victims of human trafficking get their records expunged.
“I felt like I didn’t have anything or anyone, so when someone finally said, ‘OK, I’ll help you, I’ll take care of you,’ I didn’t realize what that really meant,” Olivia said.
Olivia says she had a pretty normal childhood, but when she turned 18, she left home and lived on a park bench. She says her trafficking journey started with stealing from stores and buying and selling drugs.
“It’s not just prostitution, it’s not just selling sex,” Olivia said. “It’s any and everything a trafficker wants you to do.”
Olivia said she was trafficked all over the country, feeling like she didn’t have a choice but to do what her traffickers said.
“I used to pray everyday for the police to arrest me so I could finally stop doing what I was doing,” Olivia said.
After an undercover sting, Olivia spent four years in prison. She said her time behind bars saved her life.
“People say, ‘Oh, you knew it was illegal, you knew it was wrong,” Olivia said. “Definitely, I did, but I also knew what he’d do to me if I didn’t.”
Olivia is one of many victims who, after getting out of trafficking, has a lot to face in life with a long record following her around. She is the first survivor to have her record expunged with the help of Regent University.
“It’s not fair, they didn’t have the intent to commit these crimes, and yet the convictions follow them,” said Meg Kelsey, assistant director of the Center for Global Justice.
Kelsey said a recently passed Virginia law helps victims get charges that are a direct result of being trafficked removed from their records.
The law only allows for two types of misdemeanors to be expunged right now, but they’re advocating for more.
“This piece of offering record relief, criminal record relief to a survivor,” Kelsey said, “is important because even if a survivor is able to exit from the atrocity of being trafficked that criminal record follows the survivor wherever he or she may go.”
The program helps victims get housing, pass background checks when applying for jobs, and even helping victims get custody of their kids back – hoping to remove a physical and psychological barrier that could benefit victims for the rest of their lives.
“For many of these victims, (it’s) a constant reminder of who they were or what they were forced into, so to have these charges removed, we hope it will help bring healing to them,” said Dean S. Ernie Walton.
The courts aren’t aware of this law, so many trafficking survivors aren’t aware that this law even exists. That’s why the university is trying to bring awareness to it.
Olivia said now that her record is expunged, she’s hopeful people will be able to see past the prostitution charges and will finally be able to see her instead.
“For it to be off my record, and for a judge to essentially say, ‘Yes, I am going to take it off your record because I know we were wrong in the first place to convict you, it’s huge,” Olivia said.
If you would like more information on the Regent University program, click here.