COLUMBUS -- Residents forced into prostitution could have resulting criminal charges removed from their records, under legislation being considered in the Ohio Senate.
Sens. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) and Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) offered SB 4 as a next step in the state's efforts to combat human trafficking. The two offered sponsor testimony on the legislation Jan. 8 before the Senate's Judiciary Committee.
"All too often victims of human trafficking are forced to engage in a life of crime while coerced into selling their bodies for money," Kunze said. "This life is not one anyone seeks out. It is abusive and filled with force and duress. Women who escape the abusive and cruel world of forced prostitution should not be responsible for crimes they committed when a criminal gave them a choice between their life or theft."
SB 4 would expand the list of crimes that can be expunged from records to include offenses of individuals compelled into prostitution. (That list would not include murder or rape.)
The legislation establishes an application process for victims to seek expungement through court systems.
Kunze said Wednesday that human trafficking-related convictions haunt victims long after the crimes.
"Lingering convictions, which resulted from compelled prostitution, often make it impossible for victims to pass background checks or find permanent housing," she said, adding, "As they begin to rebuild their lives, a clean slate can allow victims of human trafficking to find safe housing and a stable job.
Comparable legislation moved through the Ohio Senate on a unanimous vote last session, but the House did not complete its deliberations on the bill before the end of last year.
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.