OLYMPIA – A bill to help survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation passed the state Senate on Wednesday, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, the first bill for the new senator.

“Everyone deserves a fair chance and everyone deserves justice,” Saldaña said. “This is a simple bill that can have significant and positive impacts on the lives of girls, boys, women and men who have survived trafficking and sexual exploitation. We need to seize every chance to make sure that regardless of what may have happened to someone in the past, survivors of trafficking are able to move forward with their lives.”

Substitute Senate Bill 5272 allows a person to vacate a conviction for prostitution even if he or she has committed other crimes since the date of conviction, provided those crimes were the result of being a victim of a trafficking or a prostitution-related offense. This bill builds upon ongoing bipartisan commitments to end human trafficking in Washington state and support survivors.

SSB 5272 also clarifies the motion to vacate a conviction should be supported by sworn testimony at a hearing before the court. This was not made plain in previous legislation, and led to denials of petitions to vacate convictions. There is a companion bill in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines (House Bill 1112).

Criminal records, even for those who have been exploited or trafficked, can often make it difficult to find a job, rent an apartment or apply for essential services. More than a quarter of trafficking victims globally are children, and roughly 55 percent are women and girls. Data shows most individuals involved in prostitution start as teenagers, some estimates set the average age as young as 13 years old.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously and was supported by a number of advocacy groups and individuals including Seattle Against Slavery, Shared Hope International and the City of Seattle Attorney’s Office.