The CAASE Legal Department recently obtained important victories for two survivors of sex trafficking through the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act.
In November 2016, CAASE attorney Rachel Johnson successfully obtained vacatur of seven criminal prostitution convictions for a survivor that had been coerced into prostitution when she was 19 years old in California by a notoriously violent pimp who routinely beat and threatened her. Her second, equally violent pimp also coerced her into using crack cocaine so that he could better control her. After several years of this abuse, the client was able to escape her California traffickers but was left with severe psychological trauma, drug addiction and no meaningful options for employment.
She came to Peoria, Illinois, where she continued to engage in prostitution for survival and to feed her addiction. Through incredible resilience and courage, the client pulled herself out of prostitution and her addiction and has been clean for over 17 years and has worked as a case manager and Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor for numerous organizations that serve the homeless and counsels individuals with chemical dependency.
Johnson argued that, although the client had not been under pimp control while in Peoria, the effects of her trafficking in California directly led to her engagement in prostitution in Illinois. The court agreed with this argument, finding, for the first time in an Illinois court, that prostitution convictions obtained after a survivor flees her trafficker may still be vacated due to trafficking’s long-term psychological effects and coerced drug abuse.
When asked about this success, the client said,
"This is not only my victory but Rachel's and CAASE's as well. The arguments made and presentation on the whole almost makes me want to go back to school so that I can change people's lives on such a huge level. Rachel's hard work and efforts have made it a little easier for me to find my niche where I can excel and make a difference in this world."
In January 2017, CAASE attorney Stephanie Speakman also obtained a huge victory for a survivor of sex trafficking, leading to the vacatur of 32 convictions related to prostitution. While the State’s Attorney’s Office joined in requesting that most of these convictions be vacated, it objected to vacating two convictions for public indecency, arguing that the law only allows convictions for prostitution to be vacated. Ms. Speakman argued that the underlying facts of those two convictions showed that the cases could have been charged as prostitution but that the State’s Attorney’s Office itself had made the decision to charge as public indecency, which would have been easier to prove. She argued that the survivor should not be punished because of a decision the State’s Attorney had made many years ago. The judge agreed with Ms. Speakman’s argument and vacated all of the client’s convictions.
Although she is a certified substance abuse counselor, the client had been turned down for several jobs in her field due to her felony convictions. She now hopes to use her newfound freedom to serve others affected by prostitution and continue to advocate for their freedom as well.