Care Providers, Violence Survivors Say Legal System Re-traumatizes, Criminalizes Survivors

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Speakers say AB 2354 (Bonta) would help, as it would allow human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual violence survivors clear their records and move forward with their lives.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 14, 2024
PRESS CONTACT: SF Public Defender Public Relations Officer Jessie Seyfer | (415) 851-2212 | jessie.seyfer@sfgov.org  

**PRESS RELEASE**

Care Providers, Violence Survivors Say Criminal Legal System Re-traumatizes, Criminalizes Survivors

Speakers say AB 2354 (Bonta) would help, as it would allow human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual violence survivors clear their records and move forward with their lives.

A recording of this discussion is above and has been posted here.

SACRAMENTO — The criminal legal system often retraumatizes and criminalizes survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual violence, according to care providers and survivors who spoke at a panel discussion on May 9. Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) gave opening remarks and has introduced a bill, AB 2354, that would allow survivors of these forms a violence a path forward, by expanding their ability to clear their criminal records (via a process known as vacatur relief) and move on with their lives. 

“Survivors need protection, healing, and care to rebuild their lives—not criminalization and punishment from California’s legal system,” said Bonta. “I’m proud to stand with survivors and organizers on this panel to uplift this bill that will take a focused approach and will ensure that all survivors can petition the court to remove a sentence resulting from their abuse and victimization.”

The panel was moderated by April Grayson, senior policy manager at Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition and included Sawan Vadan, executive director of the Community Against Sexual Harm (CASH), Phoebe Nelson and Josie Feemster, who are members of CASH’s Advisory Board, and Kelly Pretzer, who leads the Clean Slate Unit of the San Francisco Public Defender’s office. 

“Like all people, survivors of human trafficking, domestic and intimate partner violence are not perfect, and it’s important to move away from that myth,” said Feemster. “A survivor’s journey is a complex one, and survivors may end up with criminal convictions in connection with what they have gone through. Assemblymember Bonta’s bill, AB 2354, acknowledges survivors’ journeys, and the injustice of having their trauma and records haunt them as they forge their paths forward.”

“Survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence should not have to be re-traumatized every time they submit a job application,” Pretzer said. “I represented a survivor who lost a job working with at-risk youth because of a 50-year-old drug conviction. Survivors should not be at a disadvantage when trying to improve their circumstances. They should be given absolute confidence that their past is truly behind them and that they are empowered to achieve their dreams. AB 2354 would make that possible.”

Panelists encouraged attendees to ask their elected state representatives to support AB 2354, which passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee and is now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It will become law if approved by the Assembly, state Senate, and signed into law by the governor. More information about AB 2354 can be found here and here.  

This event was sponsored by California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, Californians for Safety and Justice, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, Felony Murder Elimination Project, Free to Thrive, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, National Center for Youth Law, Rainbow Services, Ltd., San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition, and Survived & Punished.

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