Human Trafficking and Sealing Records

Sealing records is often considered a way to give individuals with criminal histories a chance at rehabilitation and a fresh start. For human trafficking survivors it’s even more important as it allows them to move forward without the stigma associated with certain past offenses.


Many human trafficking survivors are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of crimes that their traffickers forced them to commit. These convictions create mountains of problems when survivors are applying for housing, employment, education, and various other areas where background checks are required.   


When a record is sealed, access to the information is restricted or limited, and in some cases, the record may be entirely expunged or destroyed. The specific criteria and procedures for sealing records depend on the laws of the jurisdiction where the individual was convicted.


The process of sealing records typically involves the survivor filing a petition with the court for a judge to review the case and determine eligibility. Recognizing the circumstances that led to criminal involvement, such as human trafficking, can play a role in determining the appropriate legal remedies. Aside from considering victim status, eligibility criteria often depend on factors such as the nature of the offense and the severity of the conviction.


It’s important to keep in mind that the laws regarding sealed records vary widely, and it’s crucial to consult with legal professionals in the relevant jurisdiction for accurate and up-to-date information.


Today, only 3 states have no criminal record relief statute specifically for human trafficking survivors: Alaska, Iowa, and Maine. There are also a couple of states who only offer relief for survivors who were minors when trafficked: Missouri and South Dakota. This does not reflect pending legislation and other efforts in states that have not yet resulted in a new or different law.


Obtaining employment, finding affordable and safe housing, and beginning or continuing education are just a few areas of life that are made easier when there is legal relief for human trafficking survivors.


For more information and resources, visit Polaris at www.polarisproject.org and the Survivor Reentry Project at www.freedomnetworkusa.org/advocacy/survivor-reentry-project

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