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  • Writer's pictureJoe Lyons

Yost Testifies to Help Human Trafficking Victims Expunge Their Criminal Records



Office Also Launches ‘HT 101’ Guide to Aid Communities

 

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee this afternoon in support of legislation that would expand the eligibility of human trafficking survivors to have their criminal records expunged.

 

“Once the nightmare of human trafficking is over, many individuals begin another battle – putting their lives back together and starting over,” Yost said. “The journey to recovery is made even tougher when survivors are barred from employment, housing or education because of their past involvement with trafficking.”

 

House Bill 385, sponsored by Reps. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) and Josh Williams (R-Sylvania), would remove the predicate requirement for those applying for expungement of fourth- and fifth-degree felonies and all misdemeanors.

 

Currently, a trafficking survivor must have one of three predicate charges to be eligible to apply for expungement: solicitation, loitering to engage in solicitation, or prostitution.

 

“These predicate charges exclude both sex trafficking victims who were never convicted of those specific crimes, as well as labor trafficking victims, who would not have solicitation charges,” Yost testified. “The statute also ignores the modernization of traffickers, who increasingly use the internet and cellphones to commit their crimes.”

 

Survivors would still have to provide clear and convincing evidence that the crimes they committed resulted from being trafficked.

 

Also testifying during today’s hearing were multiple trafficking survivors, including Natasha Cooper, who serves on the Ambassador Advisory Commission of Yost’s Human Trafficking Initiative.

 

“Even though I have more than four years clean and have accomplished a great deal, I am still affected by my past,” Cooper told the House committee. “If I had my record expunged, this would help me move forward in life in so many ways — it would help me with more diverse employment opportunities, (provide) greater access to safe and stable housing and give me a sense of pride. I am a productive member of my community and want to be viewed for who I am not what my past charges have been.”

 

Yost also supported House Bill 385’s companion legislation in the Ohio Senate, Senate Bill 214, which has already passed out of the chamber.

 

On message with today’s testimony, AG Yost also announced a new “best practices” guide for addressing human trafficking in Ohio communities.

 

The publication, “Human Trafficking 101: Best Practices Guide to Raising Awareness in Your Community,” was developed by the Public Awareness Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission. It is intended as a “how to” resource for anti-trafficking coalitions and community leaders statewide.

 

“Human trafficking is happening in Ohio, and traffickers thrive when communities are in the dark about how to handle it,” Yost said. “This guide sheds light on the basics and gives everyone the same checklist for responding.”

 

The guide, available through the AG’s website, focuses on four main topics:

 

    High-Level Essentials

    Myth vs. Fact

    Credible Resources

    Checklists for Trainings

 

It provides a comprehensive overview of human trafficking as well as appropriate imagery and language for groups to use. It also emphasizes the importance of involving survivors in community discussions because of the unique knowledge and perspective that lived experience provides.

 

Yost created the Human Trafficking Initiative in 2019 to build awareness, empower Ohioans to take action in their communities, strengthen victim services throughout the state and ensure that traffickers and “johns” are brought to justice.

 

The Attorney General is set to deliver opening remarks at the initiative’s fifth annual Human Trafficking Summit, scheduled for Aug. 7 in Columbus.

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