Regent University. Helping Trafficking Victims Make a Fresh Start: “God Loves Stories of Beauty Rising from the Ashes”

Regent University takes an active role in the fight against human trafficking by helping survivors get a fresh start. The Center for Global Justice at Regent Law School is providing victims of human trafficking in Virginia with legal help to expunge their records thanks to a new state law that Regent helped pass in the state.

Even if some victims of human trafficking eventually free themselves from their traffickers, the legal charges of prostitution – and many other crimes they were forced to commit – will follow them for the rest of their lives. CBN News recently sat down with a survivor named Olivia who shared her story about how she became a victim of sex trafficking and the legal issues that followed.

“I had to do drugs, which meant I had to have illegal drugs,” Olivia explained. “I had to steal, I had to hurt other people, sometimes other women, because if I didn’t I didn’t know what he would do to me.”

Olivia told CBN News that she first became a victim of trafficking at the age of 18 when her boyfriend became violent and asked her to make money by selling herself for sex.

“On average, I probably saw 20 ‘dates’ a night,” she recalls. “There was a quota I had to hit, a certain amount every day, and if I didn’t hit it, I had no food, no sleep, nothing until I hit it.”

Olivia says he then tried to kill her when she became pregnant with his child. Desperate, she called her mother from a Boston hospital. This earned him a train ticket to Virginia to escape his attacker, but his freedom was short-lived.

“My first trafficker made me believe I wasn’t good for anything else,” she remembers. “You’ll never get a real job, no one will ever want to hire you, you’re a prostitute. No one will want you. And I believed it, so even when I was alone, I still prostituted myself.”

Vulnerable, homeless and addicted to drugs, a new trafficker found Olivia and promised to take care of her as long as she did what he asked.

“When you have a trafficker, you have to give them everything. There’s no ‘Oh, can I keep a little for myself’ or control my own money,” Olivia said. “So I felt like I was going to leave, but there are other people involved, so technically there was no departure.”

Olivia tells CBN News she often hoped to get arrested for prostitution so she could get out of her situation. Although that wish ultimately came true, it resulted in a four-year prison sentence for charges including prostitution and drug possession.

“I’m not a prostitute, I’m definitely a victim of human trafficking, and I didn’t know that for a long, long time,” Olivia explained. “I thought that because I was doing it myself sometimes that it was because I wanted to or that this was exactly how I should live, but I was trained in my brain to think that way, to think that there was no other way to live.”

Two years ago, Regent University helped pass a vacatur law in Virginia that matches the reality of trafficking, viewing Olivia and others like her as victims, not criminals.

“Many people don’t realize that victims of human trafficking are forced to commit a range of crimes and that, from a legal perspective, they do not intend to commit this crime,” said Meg Kelsey of Regent’s Center for Global Justice. “Human trafficking, by its nature, involves the use of force, fraud, coercion and manipulation – it is the exploitation of others and forcing them to commit a range of crimes. »

Kelsey explained that even though the vacatur law has been in effect for two years in Virginia, survivors do not benefit from it.

“It became clear that this could be the piece that we bring to the puzzle, that survivors have access to this law but don’t know about it,” Kelsey said.

The center recently opened a clinic to provide survivors with the legal assistance needed to file motions to have their records expunged. Olivia is their first victory.

“This relief is important because it helps survivors like Olivia expunge criminal convictions they don’t deserve to have on their criminal records,” Kelsey said. “They did not intend to commit these crimes, and so even when they leave human trafficking behind, they can be physically free of the predator, of the trafficker, and that criminal record goes with them.”

The clinic also connected with a local law firm to train attorneys on the law, human trafficking and trauma-informed law.

“God moves,” Kelsey said. “Our enemy prowls like a roaring lion, but we have the true Lion of Judah with us. We can pray, research, and plead from a place of victory.”

While not all of Olivia’s record is clean, she tells CBN News she’s relieved that her most embarrassing accusation is expunged.

“By saying you know, we made a mistake, you know we should never have accused you of this, we apologize. That’s how we’re going to apologize – we’re going to take it off your record, It’s huge,” Olivia said. “Forget the file disappearing, just knowing that they realized we are victims and not criminals is probably the best part of this case.”

Olivia hopes Virginia law will one day expand to eliminate other charges.

“I feel like people are learning now. I think they think they know what human trafficking is, but I don’t think they realize the extent of it,” Olivia said. “It’s not just prostitution, it’s not just, you know, selling sex, it’s whatever and that’s how I got my criminal record – you know , I got it through trafficking.”

The clinic not only helps survivors, but it also provides Regent Law students with real-world experience in human rights and anti-trafficking.

“God loves stories of reborn beauty, redemption, restoration, forgiveness and new life and we hope at Regent Law to inspire a generation of lawyers who will walk with people in the midst of these stories as advocates for people in these stories,” Regent Law School Dean Brad Lingo told CBN News. “I can’t think of a better way to do that than this new anti-human trafficking clinic.”

In the future, Regent hopes to increase the number of victims he can help through this clinic, and they even hope to bring Olivia in as an official member of the team as they work with more survivors.


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