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Gillibrand bill would clear criminal records of trafficking victims

Sasha-Ann Simons

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stood with survivors of trafficking, advocacy groups and the police department to announce new bipartisan legislation. The bill, called the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016, would clear the criminal records of victims of human trafficking.

Speaking at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Rochester Monday, the Senator said the bill would apply to non-violent crimes committed by minors while they were being trafficked.

“For a lot of these young men and women, they desperately need it because it's affecting their ability to get loans, to get a college education, to get housing, employment. Anything that they need, it becomes an impediment,” Gillibrand said.

Human trafficking is described as a modern day form of slavery affecting millions of people in America and abroad. The crime involves either the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for labor or commercial sex.

As a result of being trafficked, victims are often charged with crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking, and other related offenses that follow them throughout the duration of their lives.

“Victims of sexual slavery end up branded as prostitutes. Victims of labor slavery could even end up tagged as conspirators in organized crime,” Gillibrand explained.

Chayil Tephillah of Angels of Mercy, a local organization working to raise awareness and stop human trafficking, said she endured a long life of verbal and sexual abuse from her adopted parents in Hudson Valley. She moved to Rochester two years ago in search of a new start. Tephilla is now completing a Master of Social Work degree and said she is using her pain to help others.

“I’m in a place where I can empathize and relate to those that go through this. I want to use my time and energy now to be a support, to be an advocate,” said Tephillah.

Gillibrand’s legislation would require victims to provide supporting documentation, to prove that they were victims of human trafficking, in order to get their non-violent criminal records cleared.

Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer in March 2015. The right mix of determination and opportunity catapulted Sasha-Ann into her dream career as a journalist nearly a decade ago. A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Sasha-Ann comes to Rochester after spending her formative years growing up in Toronto, Canada. She studied broadcasting at Ryerson University, where she received a Bachelor of Journalism. Sasha-Ann earned her first news gig as a chase producer at CityTV, while still a college freshman. She subsequently took on various roles in other Toronto newsrooms as a videographer, host, and producer, and was part of the award-winning Global TV news team. Sasha-Ann has covered and produced stories in the Canadian national spotlight, including Occupy Toronto, the Eaton Centre mall shooting, the Toronto Argos CFL championship win, and the Mayor Rob Ford crack scandal. Sasha-Ann is fun-loving and sassy. She is also passionate about education issues. When she's not on the air, Sasha-Ann spends her time with family and exploring new recipes in the kitchen.