Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Gov. David Paterson signed a bill into law this weekend that allows sex trafficking victims to vacate their criminal convictions. Victim advocates say the legislation is the first of its kind in the country.
Over the past few years there's been a push by advocates to treat former prostitutes that were forced or coerced into sex work as victims instead of criminals.
The new law allows them to submit a motion requesting their records be vacated. Most prostitutes are convicted of various misdemeanors including disturbing the peace and this new law is intended to help trafficking victims turn their lives around.
Siena Baskin from the Urban Justice Center says criminal records make it difficult to clear up a person's immigration status, search for a job, or find certain types of housing. She says up to 15 of her clients are eager to vacate their records including one woman from Central America who had been working as a home health aid until the Department of Health ran her fingerprints, discovered her criminal record and then fired her.
"Once she can vacate those convictions she won't have to tell her employers about this really traumatizing time in her life because it's really not relevant to her ability to do this job, and doing this job will help her move on, and have a safe and stable life," Baskin says.
According to Baskin, the woman endured years of physical abuse from her husband who eventually forced her into prostitution to support him.
In some cases, when victims have cooperated with law enforcement authorities and testified against their traffickers, they are given government letters confirming their victim status.
The new law takes effect immediately.