Local advocate supports bill aimed to expunge criminal record of human trafficking survivors

YORK COUNTY, Va. – A new proposed bill aims to give human trafficking survivors a second chance.

House Bill 268 focuses on expunging records of those who were victims of human trafficking.

A survivor of sexual abuse, Ateba Gaines, is advocating to get it passed. She said this piece of legislation would allow for survivors to petition the court to expunge their convictions and court records – if they were charged while being trafficked.

Gaines, who lives in York County, said survivors could work to prove this with a counselor or clergy member. She told News 3 that she was molested by her father at a young age before voluntarily turning to prostitution at 19-years-old.

In her case, Gaines was not criminally charged so when she finally got out, she was able to graduate with a master’s degree.

She also worked for large corporations like Pepsi and Nike.

Gaines said when someone is arrested, they’re victimized twice: once by their trafficker and then by the system because they’ve now have a record.

Related: 13 people arrested following Williamsburg undercover prostitution operation

“Not only does it give the trafficker or pimp power over that victim because now they can say, ‘Oh well you’re not gonna ever be able to get a job,’” Gaines told News 3. “So if we are able to pass this bill then the woman gets a second chance.”

Gaines said there are currently no laws like this in the commonwealth.

“We have a lot of victims out here that have children. They are stuck in a low social economic level because they can’t move beyond the poverty level because they can’t go to school, they can’t get a job,” she explained.

Gaines has been working with several local lawmakers to make sure this bill makes it to the Governor’s desk.

If this proposal passes, it will likely go into effect next year.

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