Last week, the Illinois House of Representatives gave unanimous approval to legislation filed by State Representative Jeff Keicher (R-Sycamore). House Bill 2418 creates a pathway to expunge criminal records for victims of human trafficking as they seek to recover from the trauma they have experienced and pursue a normal life. Human trafficking victims are often forced to participate in unlawful activity by their traffickers.
“Human trafficking is a much more pervasive problem than many of us realize, and it can happen in any community regardless of size or location,” said Keicher. “Even though sex trafficking is most common, this form of modern day slavery traps victims for many reasons, and they are often forced to engage in criminal behavior under threat to themselves, family or friends they may be trying to protect.”
“If the trauma of being trafficked wasn’t bad enough, victims often face legal penalties themselves for the actions they were forced into by their abusers. House Bill 2418 helps us support victims through the recovery process by creating a pathway to expungement.”
As Keicher referenced, HB 2418 helps trafficking victims by allowing them to petition for vacation, expungement or immediate sealing of their sentence. It also allows the victim making the petition to attend hearings remotely to avoid undue hardship or create a risk of harm. In addition, the bill allows the petition to be filed under seal if a public filing may expose the victim to future harm. These steps help ensure a victim is able to avoid future victimization from their former abuser or abusers.
Keicher credited reporting by WNIJ and the work of the Polaris Project, a nonprofit non-governmental organization that works to combat and prevent sex and labor trafficking in North America, for raising awareness about the difficulties survivors face once they escape their abuse. This led him to work with state and local resources to bring HB 2418 forward.
“I want thank many partners for helping us make this legislation a reality, including the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, and my policy staff,” said Keicher. “I hope to see it receive unanimous support in the Senate and be signed into law by the Governor.”
Madeleine Behr, policy director for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), which provides free legal services to trafficking survivors who need criminal records relief, said, “Our attorneys see the hardships survivors face as they rebuild their lives, including trying to clear criminal records they received while being trafficked. HB 2418 is a terrific step forward. It adds protections for confidentiality and privacy as survivors undergo this process. We urge the state Senate to support this critical legislation.”
Rep. Keicher serves the 70th District, which includes portions of DeKalb, Kane, and McHenry Counties.