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Recent trafficking victims can soon apply to clear records

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(The Center Square) – A new bill will allow more former sex trafficking victims to clear prostitution convictions from their records.

House Bill 2623 scraps the restriction that only those who committed a “violation” before July 24, 2014, could apply to “vacate the conviction” if there’s “clear and convincing evidence” that the individual was being trafficked at the time. Now, they can apply regardless of when the conviction occurred.

“Not every victim of sex trafficking is ready or able to share their story at the time of their prosecution,” Rep. Matt Gress, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement last week. “Coming forward is often a long and difficult process. That’s why this new law is important for victims, ensuring they can seek justice and clear their names, no matter when their exploitation occurred.”

The legislation passed the House unanimously and only had a singular vote against it in the Senate. Gress said that the bill came as the result of anti-human trafficking advocacy.

“I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Sheri Lopez, founder of the non-profit organization Pearl at the Mailbox, a resource for victims of human trafficking,” Gress added. “Sheri testified before several legislative committees, bravely sharing her personal story to educate legislators about the present-day horrors of human trafficking. Her advocacy has been instrumental in bringing about this important legislative change, and her heart to help and heal other victims is an inspiration for us all.”

Prostitution is a class 1 misdemeanor, but those who have been convicted three or more times are “guilty of a class 5 felony” and could find themselves behind bars for at least 180 days, according to state law.

Gov. Katie Hobbs signed the bill into law on May 21, and it will take effect roughly three months after the legislature adjourns. Her office did not respond for comment in time for publication.

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