Washington State bill would allow removal of prostitution convictions

Legislators in Washington are considering several proposed bills that would attempt to address human trafficking and prostitution. One such bill would vacate prostitution convictions for women who were forced into the trade, often at a young age, due to threats of violence or deportation.

Danielle Goodwin, a former victim, testified in favor of the bill in front of the state Senate Law and Justice Committee on February 24. She told the committee how she was abused and coerced into prostitution, and that a previous conviction has hindered her efforts at finding legal employment. According to the Seattle Human Services Department, as many as 500 teenage girls are being prostituted in King County alone.

There is no exact data on the number of human traffickers in the state.

The bill's sponsor, Representative Tina Orwall, claims the bill would be a good step to help women rebuild their lives. House Bill 1292 would allow victims of abuse and human trafficking to petition a judge to remove a conviction. It passed the House with a vote of 94-1. The bill is currently in the Senate and will likely be brought to the floor for a vote.

Also at the hearing, former SeaTac Police Chief Jim Graddon said that there is a changing perception among law enforcement regarding prostitution. Police are beginning to view women arrested for prostitution as victims rather than criminals.

The bill would not allow for a prostitution-related conviction to be cleared if there is an additional pending charge against that person, the applicant has been convicted of a new crime in Washington or any other state, or the applicant has had a previous conviction vacated.

Other bills focused on human trafficking

Another bill would classify human trafficking and other forms of forced labor as a sex crime, obliging people convicted of trafficking to register as a sex offender. House Bill 2644 would make it a crime to force an immigrant, legal or undocumented, to perform labor or sexual acts by threatening to remove immigration documents.

The offense would be considered trafficking in the first degree, a felony. In addition, the new law would apply if a minor is forced to perform a sexual act for a fee. Prosecutors could use the new law as an additional charge in trafficking prostitution cases.

Sex crimes carry stigma

A sex crime conviction can have lifelong consequences. Registering as a sex offender can prevent a person from obtaining work, living in certain neighborhoods and can cast that person as a social outcast. People accused of a sex crime should contact a skilled criminal defense attorney to protect themselves in court and ensure all is done to prevent or limit the devastating consequences associated with a sex crime conviction.