Young Trafficking Victim's Story On NPR Leads To Senator's Amendment : It's All Politics Hearing about a young woman's struggle to wipe away her conviction on prostitution charges inspired New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to introduce legislation to help other victims.

Young Trafficking Victim's Story On NPR Leads To Senator's Amendment

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There's a new turn in a story that we reported a couple of months ago. It was about a victim of human trafficking, a young woman who was struggling to move on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm not ever going to forget what I've done and what I've gone through. But at the same time, I don't want it thrown in my face every time I'm trying to seek employment. I don't want to have to explain myself every time.

SIEGEL: Those words caught the ear of a U.S. senator from New Hampshire, leading to action this week by Congress. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: That 24-year-old woman endured years of rapes and brutal assaults by pimps who forced her into prostitution. But what she really wanted was help cleaning up her criminal record and moving forward with her life. That simple request touched Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

SENATOR JEANNE SHAHEEN: Victims who are induced to commit crimes while they're being trafficked should not then be charged and have to have those crimes follow them for the rest of their lives.

JOHNSON: Shaheen talked about the NPR story on the Senate floor this year. And last month, she introduced a bill designed to help trafficking victims erase their criminal convictions. It's a process known as vacatur.

SHAHEEN: And what the amendment would do is incentivize states to pass these kinds of laws and to make sure that we're punishing the perpetrators and not the victims of trafficking.

JOHNSON: This week, the Senate passed a major bill on human trafficking, a bill that included Sen. Shaheen's provision. Here is the reaction from the young woman who inspired that move.

WOMAN: And I started crying. I never thought that my story would have touched somebody so much that they went in front of Congress to present a bill.

JOHNSON: Pretty cool, she adds. NPR is not naming her because she's the victim of a crime.

WOMAN: There's a lot of voices out there that can't tell her thank you. There's a lot of people out there that are going through what I went through, and they don't have help.

JOHNSON: The young woman did have help - family support and a lawyer who cleared her criminal record. She covered up a brand, bearing the name of her pimp, with a tattoo in the shape of a lotus flower. She is registered to start college in August. Her baby boy is in good health. And her mother is thrilled by the fire she sees in her daughter's eyes. So thrilled that she wrote Sen. Shaheen an email message. The senator read it aloud.

SHAHEEN: She says, (reading) my daughter has an opportunity to take this nightmare and in her own way impact lives and finally move forward with a measure of self-respect. I wish she could be the voice for all those survivors who don't have a voice because they don't know how - not a poster child but an actual advocate.

JOHNSON: Something else has happened since the young woman shared her story. Jessica Emerson is the lawyer who helped vacate the Dallas woman's criminal record. Emerson's been fielding calls from people who never knew the law already existed in about 20 states. She's hearing from advocates who want to learn how to pass similar laws in their own states. Emerson says the Shaheen amendment passed by Congress will help.

JESSICA EMERSON: I think the amendment that supports vacating convictions in every state in the country is an absolute success.

JOHNSON: Emerson says she's helping seven other victims of trafficking wipe away their criminal records in Maryland alone. But, she says, there's a lot more work to do across the country. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

SIEGEL: And Carrie's story was co-reported by NPR producer Evie Stone.

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