By Johanna Kanes, IANGEL Bridge Fellow
Survivors of human trafficking often have criminal records as a result of their being trafficked. The California Vacatur law, which passed in 2017, allows survivors to have their criminal records sealed and convictions vacated for nonviolent crimes that were directly related to having been trafficked. This law is important because it allows victims to seek relief and empowers them as survivors, not criminals, under the law.
On October 30th, IANGEL produced an attorney training specifically focused on California’s vacatur law. About 25 attorneys were trained on the basics of human trafficking, trauma-informed representation of survivors, and criminal records clearance. The training, which was generously hosted by Fenwick & West, was provided in partnership with Queen’s Bench Bar Association and training partners Asian Women’s Shelter, Justice At Last, and API Legal Outreach.
Saerom Choi of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach presented “Human Trafficking 101,” providing background on human trafficking in the United States. Saerom spoke about the diversity of trafficking victims, common misconceptions, trafficking industries, systematic exploitation, advice on issue spotting and interviewing clients.
Hediana Utarti, with the Asian Women’s Shelter, presented on how a trauma-informed approach strengthens the attorney-client relationship and leads to better client representation. Survivors have often faced multiple traumas, and the criminal justice system can bring up old traumas or create new ones. As a result, it is especially important for attorneys to be mindful of their clients’ needs. This may include preferences in communication, recognizing and avoiding cultural biases, trauma-informed interpreters and respecting a client’s emotional wellbeing during interviews.
The last training session of the day was provided by Rose Mukhar, founder of Justice At Last, and covered the ways in which the law can be used to vacate criminal convictions obtained as a result of being trafficked. The presentation included information on the process, petitions, client affidavits and corroborating exhibits. Rose also touched on client confidentiality, privacy and anticipating client questions/concerns.
IANGEL’s “Supporting Survivors of Human Trafficking: Attorney Training on California Vacatur Law (Update No. 1)” addressed the myriad of ways the criminal justice system can treat a victim of trafficking as a criminal. California vacatur statutes are an essential tool for helping survivors reclaim their lives. Convictions resulting from being trafficked can prevent survivors from obtaining employment, education, public benefits, and loans. Vacating these convictions can support family stability and accessing immigration relief.
IANGEL warmly thanks the hosts, sponsors and partner organizations of this training, as well as all who attended the program. IANGEL remains committed to work that supports survivors of human trafficking.