Pete Deaver ~ Guest Writer
Virginia has passed two new bills that are designed to protect victims from forced sex crimes if they are victims of human trafficking.
House Bill 2133 was voted on during the 2021 General Assembly and was unanimously approved. It seeks to allow victims of human trafficking who had been, “solicited, invited, recruited, encouraged, forced, intimidated, or deceived by another to engage in acts of prostitution or unlawful sexual intercourse for money or its equivalent” to apply to have convictions as a result of those terms to be vacated. This means that, although the record of that conviction will still be in place, it will be considered dismissed by a court of law.
Additionally, House Bill 2234 also passed, allowing for an “affirmative defense to prosecution for certain offenses.” Those offenses include prostitution, and “keeping, residing in, or frequenting a bawdy place,” such as brothels, if the victims were forced, intimidated, or coerced into committing the crimes as a result of their trafficked state. In other words, it allows for new victims of human trafficking to have a solid defense in court in order to avoid wrongful convictions.
While this is a start toward helping those victims, Joy Cover, the President of Freedom 4/24, a trafficking education and awareness non-profit based in Lynchburg, Va, says that it is just the beginning.
According to Cover, the back-and-forth efforts to get these bills passed means that the final result of them excludes a number of victims who might be forced to commit non-violent felonies, who are not covered under the language of the bills.
She believes that legislators feared if those victims were included, it would flood the system and overwhelm the attorneys available to take on the cases. Therefore, her organization hopes to use the first year to collect data and prove that further changes can be made.
“We will use this as a jumping off platform springboard, and we will continue to provide education in the coming year so that we can add amendments next year to include other non-violent felonies. Because then they will see, we will have a year of research that we will be able to show, ‘Look, there were hardly any people who took advantage of this. It is not like it is going to overwhelm our systems and our resources.’ And they will be able to have a more realistic understanding of how many people we are actually dealing with.”