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Criminal Defense

Some trafficking victims are forced to commit crimes as part of the trafficking scheme. They may be facing current criminal charges, or have a criminal record from past arrests or convictions.


Visit Faces of Human Trafficking to view related materials. View the Transcript.

Victims facing current criminal charges will need representation in those proceedings, and may be assigned a public defender if they cannot afford a private attorney. The defense attorney may need additional training or technical assistance to understand the context of the victimization to best advocate for the victim. The defense attorney may also need information about the immigration consequences of criminal convictions if the victim is a foreign national.

Resource: The American Bar Association Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence's Survivor Reentry Project provides national training and technical assistance for attorneys working with survivors of human trafficking who have been convicted of a crime as a result of their victimization.

Explore sealing or expunging a criminal record. A criminal record can create difficult downstream consequences whether the person was arrested, convicted, or both. For example, employers or landlords often ask about criminal offenses, which can lead to roadblocks in obtaining services. Victims with criminal records may face difficulty in obtaining public benefits, education, housing, or employment for the rest of their lives if the records remain. Increasingly, states are adopting “safe harbor” and vacatur provisions, which allow for expunging criminal records related to the trafficking scheme. Expunging refers to the process of sealing arrest and conviction records, while vacating deletes the records as if they never existed. Every state has enacted laws that allow people to expunge or vacate arrests and convictions. It is important to check your state and county’s criminal court or the law enforcement agency in the task force to determine how offenses are expunged. Other post-conviction relief may be available, which may greatly improve the ability of trafficking victims to attain long-term financial stability and self-confidence.


For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 4.4 Legal Services.