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Testimony on Behalf of Expanded Vacatur Bill

Following is written testimony presented for hearings held March 8 and 10, 2016, in favor of expanding Maryland’s “vacating convictions” law, as it related to human trafficking:

On behalf of Araminta Freedom Initiative, I submit this testimony in support of SB 866 / HB 623 and respectfully urge a favorable report.

As a service provider for survivors of child sex trafficking and a member of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, we know that too often victims continue to be criminalized as a result of being forced to engage in various activities for the financial benefit of their traffickers. This criminal record produces continued obstacles in obtaining employment, housing, education, and other critical services to full recovery and successful reintegration into mainstream society.

These obstacles for survivors of trafficking keep them trapped in poverty and vulnerable to continued exploitation, with them the additional risk of continued exploitation by a trafficker or the inability to exit the commercial sex trade. Survivors who were unjustly convicted of forced criminal activity deserve better.

This is why it is so important to expand Maryland’s “vacating convictions” law through the passage of SB 866 / HB 623. In 2011, Maryland led the way, becoming the second state in the country to enact such a law, but we have learned much since that early action

Over the past four years, Maryland’s vacatur law has proved inadequate in meeting the needs of Maryland’s survivors, the majority of whom have trafficking-related convictions other than prostitution, such as trespassing and drug possession. Additionally, Maryland is one of only two states in the country requiring the consent of the agency that prosecuted the victim before the victim can file a vacatur request.

SB 866 / HB 623 would remedy these significant legal gaps by expanding the post-conviction relief available to survivors of human trafficking who are already recognized as lacking the criminal intent to commit the crimes they were convicted of.

It is critical that we not only increase the number of convictions eligible for vacatur under MD Crim. Pro § 8-302, but also expand the impact of the law by explicitly including labor trafficking survivors, as well.

Araminta Freedom Initiative supports this bill because it will enhance the effectiveness of Maryland’s human trafficking framework by improving access to justice for survivors who have been criminalized as a result of their involvement with a trafficker.

We continue to do harm to survivors through lack of resources, recognition of violence

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Maryland, press release issued following his initial trial in 2013,

Jeremy Naughton, a/k/a “Jerms Black,” age 32, of Brooklyn, New York, [was sentenced by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz] to 36 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for conspiring to commit sex trafficking, four counts of sex trafficking, six counts of transporting an individual to engage in prostitution and using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.

It was the “using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking” part that landed Naughton back in front of Judge Motz on the afternoon of February 16, 2016.

The original 36-year sentence was a combination of a 29-year sentence for the trafficking- and prostitution-related offenses, in addition to a 7-year sentence for violating a federal statute, known as section 924(c), prohibiting “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.”

Last August, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (of which Maryland is a part), overturned a similar 924(c) conviction, writing that it was “not persuaded that the ordinary case of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion involves a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force as a means to commit the offense.”

In other words, the Court did not find that sex trafficking, in and of itself, was a “crime of violence.”

Given the Court of Appeals decision, Naughton was scheduled for resentencing to determine whether the additional 7 years related to “using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking” would stand. In the end, it did not, and the resentencing actually resulted in an even greater reduction in sentence, from the original 36 years to 22.

Naughton addressed the court, and the judge seemed convinced that he was taking advantage of the programming available to him through the Bureau of Prisons and stood before the court these 2½ years later a different man.

Since there is simply no way to tell for sure in such a brief encounter in a courtroom the extent of authentic change, the reader is welcome to draw their own conclusions, but what did seem a sad irony is the vast gulf between services available to those convicted of the crime of sex trafficking and those who are their victims.

We have come a long way in our desire to treat victims of sex trafficking as just that – victims – instead of criminalizing them. The noble intent of that is to provide wrap-around services to support survivors as they work to rebuild their lives.

The sad reality is that there are not enough services, and very little funding to support the services that do exist.

Through the Bureau of Prisons, Naughton has access to counseling and psychological services, medical services, postsecondary education, and specialized programming to address his individual needs. All of this is good. After all, one of Araminta’s core values is that the restoration of all individuals involved in sex trafficking is possible. This restoration, however, does not come at the expense of consequences for one’s actions.

What is untenable is that Naughton’s victims – more than 10 of whom testified at his trial – do not have access to these same kinds of services. As public awareness about this issue has increased and coordination efforts have improved, the number of victims identified by members of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force Victims Services Subcommittee has only increased. What has not changed in this same time is the amount of services available, nor the funding to support such services.

Laws have been passed in the Maryland General Assembly, but primarily having to do with criminal penalties.

When asset forfeiture was proposed, it was seen as a way to support law enforcement and victim services efforts related to trafficking, but when it passed in 2013, it was without specific instructions as to how the seized assets of convicted traffickers should be distributed. Only Howard County has specifically designated a portion to victim services as of this past year.

Last year, the General Assembly established a working group to consider Safe Harbor laws intended to address the inconsistent treatment of child victims and ensure that they are provided appropriate services and not criminalized.

This would be a major step toward better protecting our children and providing for the specialized services survivors of trafficking require, but despite having recommendations from the working group, it looks like yet another session will pass without any such legislation.

While convicted traffickers are able to choose from a variety of services to try to get their lives together, the reality in Maryland is that those same opportunities are not afforded to the victims of these traffickers. And time is not on our side. While convicted traffickers have years to transform into contributing members of society, their victims have to figure that out now in the midst of trauma, triggering events, navigating complex systems, and so much more.

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Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Md. must act to end trafficking of our children

Read full Op-Ed on The Baltimore Sun’s site…

In 2014, members of the Victim Services Subcommittee of the state’s Human Trafficking Task Force identified and provided services to 396 victims of human trafficking here in Maryland. Of those, 381 were victims of sex trafficking, with 373 being U.S. citizens. Of those whose ages were reported, more than half were children.

Through increased awareness and training, we are able to identify and serve more human trafficking survivors each year, but more needs to be done….

Now that the Maryland General Assembly has begun its 2016 session, we call on members to act on the recommendations of the work group and pass Safe Harbor laws to better protect our children and provide for the specialized services survivors of trafficking require….Op Ed

Just last month, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th amendment, which officially outlawed slavery in the United States. What should have been a celebration was tempered by the fact that modern-day slavery still exists, despite its official prohibition, in the form of human trafficking….

As President Barack Obama put it in a presidential proclamation recognizing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: “The bitter fact remains that millions of men, women, and children around the globe, including here at home, are subject to modern-day slavery: the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking.”

Beginning this National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, let us truly work toward that prevention the month calls us to, and not simply “awareness.” Let us commit to continuing this legacy of ordinary people changing the course of history and finally bringing an end to slavery in all of its forms.

Baltimore City Prevention Month Proclamation

Proclamation
By
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
Designating January 2016
As
“Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month”
In Baltimore

Iona Rudisill, Program Operations Manager, Baltimore Child Abuse Center (and Araminta board member); Lori Lickstein, SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and Human Trafficking Coordinator, Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice; and Alicia McDowell, Executive Director, Araminta Freedom Initiative with Baltimore City proclamation

Iona Rudisill, Program Operations Manager, Baltimore Child Abuse Center (and Araminta board member); Lori Lickstein, SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and Human Trafficking Coordinator, Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice; and Alicia McDowell, Executive Director, Araminta Freedom Initiative with Baltimore City proclamation

WHEREAS, this month is dedicated to raising awareness about sexual slavery and human trafficking worldwide; human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will; and

WHEREAS, there are 21-30 million people in slavery today; this is more than at any time in human history; and

WHEREAS, every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people in the United States and around the world; and

WHEREAS, despite growing awareness about this crime, human trafficking continues to go unreported due to its covert nature, misconceptions about its definition, and lack of awareness about its indicators; and

WHEREAS, the City of Baltimore joins the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and the Araminta Freedom Initiative in their dedication to awaken, equip, and mobilize our community to dismantle slavery and sex trafficking in the Baltimore region.

THEREFORE, I, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of the City of Baltimore, do hereby proclaim January 2016, as “Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month” in Baltimore, and do urge all citizens to join in this observance.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set the Great Seal of the City of Baltimore to be affixed this eleventh day of January, two thousand sixteen.

2015 Maryland Human Trafficking Legislation

This week is an important week for MD human trafficking legislative lobbying. As a Maryland citizen, you have a voice and can use it to bring freedom to victims of human trafficking.

Lend Your Voice

The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force is supporting several pieces of crucial legislation that will be heard in committee this week.  Professional members of the Task Force will be providing testimony in support of the legislation in committees. And we need to tell our representatives that we want their support of these bills. 

Here is the schedule of the hearings.  Please call or write your representatives this week and urge them for their support.

Tuesday, March 3rd:
HB 905 (Trafficking as an Affirmative Defense, with Necessity Defense)- House Judiciary Committee (MD Issue Brief Affirmative Defense)
HB 456 (Safe Harbor Working Group)- House Judiciary Committee (MD Safe Harbor Brief)
SB 521 (Safe Harbor Working Group)- Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee

Wednesday, March 4th:
SB 520 (Trafficking as an Affirmative Defense, without Necessity Defense)- Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee

Friday, March 6th:
SJ 3 (Honoring HT Victims During WWII)- Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee (Senate Joint Resolution 3- Honoring Victims)

Thank you for using your voice for those whose voices are not heard.

Lend Your Voice For Freedom

We need your help advocating in favor of anti-trafficking legislation during the 2012 Maryland Legislative Session. Follow the simple steps below to speak for justice.

 

Download the Bill Summary for education on the bills being presented in the 2012 legislation.
2012_Bill_Summaries_MD2012

For Issue Briefs and the up-to-date bill hearings schedule, please visit the SharedHope Protected Innocence Maryland Website

Thank you for using your voice for those who haven’t found theirs yet.