Law Students In Maryland Help Human Trafficking Survivors Forget Their Past

A Prince George’s County woman tells about her experience as a human trafficking victim. She met up with a man who said he was a modeling agent, when she was just 19. He took her out of state, where they lived in a motel and she worked as a prostitute.

She eventually got into contact with a guardian who lived in Maryland. The guardian contacted a local police department and she was able to escape, but a prostitution conviction continued to plague her as she sought a new life.

Student lawyers at the University of Baltimore School of Law have partnered with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, which has approximately 1,500 volunteer attorneys, in an effort to vacate or expunge such convictions. For survivors of trafficking, a clean criminal record could be the difference in success and failure in life.

Human Trafficking

Image: Hertfordshire Police

“For a survivor of human trafficking who has a criminal record, it is more likely that they are going to be re-exploited if their record keeps them from getting a job, access to housing and getting benefits,” said Jessica Emerson, director of the Human Trafficking Project at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Human trafficking includes domestic servitude, commercial sex trafficking and forced labor. The Federal Bureau of Investigation believes human trafficking is the third largest criminal activity worldwide. When someone is convicted of prostitution, while being trafficked can get the conviction vacated in Maryland. A 2011 Maryland law only applies to prostitution charges, but other charges can be expunged or shielded from public view.

The law school clinic was established in 2015 and since then it has helped expunge, shield or vacate criminal records for 32 clients, including the Prince George’s woman mentioned above.

Between 2013 and 2014, trafficking victims seeking assistance had almost doubled. According to a Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force survey, approximately 400 children and adults sought services during that time period.

While an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across borders throughout the world, around 200,000 people in the United States are at a high risk of becoming a victim of trafficking.

The state task force has described Interstate 95 as a “hot spot” for traffickers, connecting victims to Washington, New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Nearly 70 percent of trafficking incidents in the United States take place in truck stops, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center says.

To maintain control over a victim, traffickers can utilize sexual or physical abuse, education, romance, false promises of employments or threats of harm to victims and/or their families. They may also withhold the basic essentials from the victim. However, proving coercion is extremely difficult in a court of law.

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