A bill would make it easier for Ohio human trafficking survivors to put the past behind them

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — In 2022, Ohio was fourth in the country for human trafficking cases. A Republican-sponsored bill in the Ohio House seeks to help survivors of sex and labor trafficking get jobs and housing.

Reps. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) and Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) are joined by advocates for human trafficking victims for a group photo
Reps. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) and Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) are joined by advocates for human trafficking victims as the bill to make it easier to expunge records of survivors is introduced at the Ohio Statehouse. [Jo Ingles | Statehouse News Bureau]
Cleveland resident Annette Mango said she knows how hard it is for trafficking survivors to get their lives back on track. She was trafficked and committed crimes. When she was freed and was trying to get her life back, she said she was turned down for jobs because of her criminal history.

“Most of these places said, ‘Hey, no, no, we don’t want you working here.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ They say, ‘First of all, felons don’t do a good job.’ They say that felons don’t come to work,” Mango said. “They say felons steal. So, I was already doing that. I had to look at myself again to put myself out because they was saying that I was no good. So, I put myself down again.”

Mango said those same crimes prevented her from getting affordable housing. The gamechanger, she said, was when she was able to get her record expunged.

“It gave me confidence because first of all, they didn’t know. So, where they couldn’t bring it back up to me, they didn’t ask me the questions that I couldn’t give them the answers for of why it happened, how come it happened,” Mango said. “I didn’t have that be revictimized again by people who really didn’t care.”

Mango and some other human trafficking survivors can get records expunged now if they’ve been convicted of soliciting, loitering or prostitution. But Rep. Tracy Richardson (R-Marysville) said many survivors have committed crimes that are not covered.

Her bill would broaden the list of crimes to include those commonly in the backgrounds of trafficking survivors to help more of them get on their feet again. The bill would add lower-level nonviolent crimes such as theft and drug possession to the list of those that can be expunged.

“This legislation will open doors for survivors of human trafficking by expanding the pathway to expungement of their criminal records for crimes they committed as a result of being trafficked,” Richardson said.

Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) is the bill’s joint sponsor. He said it’s important because victims and survivors are often prey to someone who knows all of the things that could be done to control them.

“Most traffickers know their victims well. Many also know their victim’s families. Trafficking traffickers rely on building trust and a close relationship with their targets by filling the victim’s needs and in the process, identifying vulnerabilities,” Williams said. “Then they exploit those vulnerabilities to compel their victims into being trafficked.”

Williams has introduced a different bill that would increase penalties for sex trafficking, which is far more prevalent than labor trafficking. Williams noted the Toledo area that he represents is fourth in the nation for juvenile sex trafficking.

Mango, who serves as a survivor ambassador for the attorney general’s advisory council, said she’s employed and happy now.

“I’m ecstatic to where I’ve pulled up my credit report and didn’t have to worry about debt coming up, And I’m doing this because my record is expunged,” Mango said. “When I go for an apartment, I don’t have to have them worry about them saying to me that I’m going to be a ‘menace to society’ when I go for another job.”