Press Releases

October 5, 2020

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT HONORS D.C. ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATION WITH NATIONAL CRIME VICTIM SERVICE AWARD

View the official DOJ Press Release here.

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime, a division of the Office of Justice Programs, presented FAIR Girls, an anti-human trafficking organization based in Washington, D.C., with the National Crime Victim Service Award. This National Crime Victims’ Service Awards category recognizes extraordinary individuals and programs that provide services to victims of crime.

“For over 15 years, FAIR Girls has served the most vulnerable victims of the vilest crimes,” said OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katherine T. Sullivan. “We honor this outstanding organization for fighting so hard on behalf of trafficking survivors and for the profound and lasting difference it has made in so many young lives.”

FAIR Girls has provided more than 1,000 girls and young women with client-centered, trauma-informed direct services and life skills they need to transition from victim to survivor. They offer a variety of essential programs, including the Vida Home, the only safe housing option in the Washington, D.C., metro area specifically designed for survivors aged 18 to 26. FAIR Girls also provides victims support to address immediate safety and basic needs, such as clothing, food, referrals to medical and mental health services, access to legal advocacy and translation/interpretation services, if needed, and intensive individualized case management. Beyond these basic needs, FAIR Girls’ services also extend to long-term group therapy for clients and ongoing court advocacy.

As part of FAIR Girls’ Prevention Education and Outreach program, their experienced and trained staff works in the community to present a trauma- and survivor-informed curriculum on commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking, including risk factors, warning signs, and misconceptions. In a recent 12-month period, FAIR Girls trained 479 students and 883 adults, including law enforcement, mental health professionals, service providers, and community members.

“FAIR Girls provides high-quality services that meet the individualized needs of young victims, protecting their safety and well-being while putting them on the road to self-sufficiency,” said OVC Director Jessica E. Hart. “Thanks to their tireless work, many girls have been able to escape danger and start a new life defined by independence and empowerment.”

The Office for Victims of Crime leads communities across the country in observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. President Reagan proclaimed the first Victims’ Rights Week in 1981, calling for greater sensitivity to the rights and needs of victims. This year’s observance took place April 19-25 and featured the theme, “Seek Justice | Ensure Victims’ Rights | Inspire Hope.” The award recipients were honored privately and virtually with friends, family and

Office of Justice Programs leadership.

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The Office of Justice Programs, directed by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan, provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance and other resources to improve the nation’s capacity to prevent and reduce crime, assist victims and enhance the rule of law by strengthening the criminal and juvenile justice systems. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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February 4, 2020

GILLIBRAND, PORTMAN ANNOUNCE BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO CLEAR FEDERAL CRIMINAL RECORDS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIMS

Bill Would Provide Post-Conviction Relief to Victims of Sex Trafficking, Labor Trafficking, and Other Forms of Human Trafficking

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R- OH), today announced bipartisan legislation, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of
2020, which would clear the federal criminal records of the survivors of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a form of slavery that affects an estimated 40.3 million victims globally, including hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Survivors of human trafficking are commonly charged with crimes – such as conspiracy, money laundering, and drug trafficking – committed as a direct result of being trafficked. This bill would vacate (make legally void) and expunge non-violent criminal convictions of individuals who are victims of trafficking.

“Human trafficking is a horrific form of slavery that affects hundreds of thousands of people – many of them young girls and children – across this country. These victims are often forced by their captors to commit crimes, and they have absolutely no freedom to
refuse,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Convicting human trafficking survivors of criminal charges unfairly places the blame on them, rather than on the true culprits of these crimes, and hurts their ability to get back on their feet after they escape. Our bipartisan bill would clear non-violent criminal convictions of trafficking survivors who were forced to break the law, allowing them to rebuild their lives without a criminal record. We have a responsibility to protect trafficking survivors, and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”

“Trafficking victims are not criminals and they are not prostitutes. They are rape
victims,” said Senator Portman. “I’ve met with a number of brave trafficking survivors in Ohio who have told me that after they were forced into sex, they were charged with prostitution. This makes no sense and it hurts survivors at a time when they are recovering

from the unimaginable trauma of being trafficked and sexually abused. It’s time to stop punishing these victims and instead help them get their lives back.”

“Historically, the survivors that FAIR Girls works with everyday have too often been treated as criminals despite federal law that recognizes them as victims of a violent crime. As we move towards better trauma-informed, survivor-centered treatment of human trafficking victim, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2020 provides a necessary safety net for victims who have managed to escape their traffickers but are still not truly free. Vacatur laws are the next logical, essential step to supporting victims of human trafficking in their efforts to transition to safe, stable, and independent survivors. FAIR Girls commends the leadership of Senators Gillibrand and Portman in providing human trafficking survivors with this critical tool in making this life-saving transition,” said Erin Andrews, Executive Director of FAIR Girls and former Assistant United States Attorney.

“The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) supports S. 3240 Trafficking Survivors Relief Act (TSRA) because we know firsthand how survivors of human trafficking struggle with the real-world impact of the arrests and criminal convictions that arise as a direct result of their trafficking experiences. We must do better at identifying and assisting trafficking victims before a criminal conviction occurs and for those who the system of justice failed, we must create a victim-centered pathway to right this wrong. S. 3240 is a step toward doing just that,” said Kay Buck, CEO, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST).

“Trafficking often leaves survivors with complex criminal records, which make it difficult to find safe housing, establish a new career, or access education. Creating a path for justice, clearing these records, and supporting lawyers to take these cases will open up new pathways of success for survivors of labor and sex trafficking across the US. We are grateful to Senators Gillibrand and Portman for their leadership on this critical step

forward,” said Jean Bruggeman, Executive Director, Freedom Network USA.

Human trafficking is a form of slavery that involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for labor or commercial sex, or the exploitation of a minor for commercial sex. As a result of being trafficked, victims are commonly charged with crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking, and related offenses that then follow them throughout the duration of their lives. A criminal record hurts a victim’s ability to find jobs and housing, which could leave them vulnerable to further exploitation and trafficking.

The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2020 would vacate and expunge non-violent criminal convictions of individuals who are victims of trafficking if those crimes were committed as a direct result of the individual being a victim of trafficking. The bill would require victims to provide supporting documentation in order to get their non-violent criminal records vacated. These documents can include:

• Certified criminal or immigration court proceedings or law enforcement records
that demonstrate the individual was a victim of trafficking at the time they were charged with the trafficking-related offense(s); or

• Testimony or sworn statement from a trained, professional staff member of a victim services organization, an attorney, member of the clergy, a health care professional, a therapist, or other professional from whom the person has sought assistance in addressing the trauma associated with being a victim of trafficking.

The bill would also do the following:

• Require U.S. Attorneys to submit a report of the number of motions filed under the law one year after the date of enactment;

• Require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a report three years after the date of enactment to assess the law, including how many human trafficking survivors have filed petitions, and how many have been granted vacatur and/or expungement;

• Ensure that grant funding provided by the Office for Justice Programs and the Office on Violence Against Women can be used for legal representation for post-conviction relief activities.

The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2020 is endorsed by FAIR Girls, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Freedom Network USA, and the New York Anti-Trafficking Network.

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April 11, 2018

FAIR Girls Statement Commending the Signing of FOSTA-SESTA Legislation Into Law

FAIR Girls commends the signing of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation into law today by the President. For too long, survivors of sex trafficking were denied the ability to hold online publishers who knowingly facilitate sex trafficking accountable for their role in the exploitation of sex trafficking victims. FOSTA-SESTA is an important milestone in the fight for justice for trafficking survivors. FAIR Girls applauds the bipartisan dedication and tireless advocacy of our partners on this legislation, including Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO), and thanks Ivanka Trump for her role in supporting its passage.

During the past 10 years, the anti-human trafficking community has advocated to the online publishing community for stronger safeguards to protect the rights of sex trafficking victims whose traffickers were selling them online. In 2010, with the support of survivors and advocates at FAIR Girls and its coalition partners, we exposed the dark reality that among the thousands of online sex advertisements posted on Craigslist each day were the advertisements posted by pimps for victims of sex trafficking, some as young as 13. When Craiglist closed their adult section in the United States in 2010, we already knew that the content would migrate to Backpage.com.

While the goal was never to shut down online publishers who truly engaged in proactive policies that protect both sex trafficking victims and other vulnerable individuals, it became clear that certain online service providers, including Backpage.com, were intent purely on profit, even at the expense of sex trafficking victims. While Backpage.com hid behind Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, trafficking victims across the country suffered abuse, exploitation, and serial rape at the hands of those who advertised, sold and bought them.

In January 2017, a two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) inquiry led by Senators Portman and McCaskill, resulted in the report, “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” which found that Backpage.com knowingly facilitated sex trafficking by scrubbing advertisements of language that is indicative of victimization. While addressing Backpage.com specifically was critical, the FOSTA-SESTA law takes an important step in closing the loophole that has allowed online service providers who knowingly facilitate the crime of sex trafficking to avoid accountability while profiting on the backs of trafficking survivors, and will help stop this content from migrating elsewhere.

“At FAIR Girls, nearly 100% of the survivors of sex trafficking we serve are sold online, with the vast majority sold on Backpage.com. For years, FAIR Girls has worked tirelessly alongside survivors and their families, lawyers, advocates, law enforcement, media outlets and legislators to bring about the justice and accountability that survivors of sex trafficking sold for profit on websites like Backpage.com deserve. It has been a long road, but FAIR Girls is proud of the progress we have made together. While we recognize that FOSTA-SESTA being made law and the recent seizure and prosecution of Backpage.com are important steps along that long road, they are by no means the last ones. There is more to be done, and FAIR Girls looks forward to continuing its advocacy demanding justice for trafficking survivors.” — Erin Andrews, Executive Director, FAIR Girls

“At the heart of this Backpage fight, as well as almost all fights on behalf of human trafficking victims, is recognizing that these survivors need and deserve holistic justice. After the Senate hearing, the owners and senior management of Backpage walked out of the room free to return to their lives, business as usual, while the victims of sex trafficking must carry the vestiges of their abuse and trafficking with them always.” – Andrea Powell, Founder, FAIR Girls for CNN: The fight against sex trafficking is bigger than Backpage 01/19/2017

While FAIR Girls is confident that the FOSTA-SESTA legislation made into law today, will offer a measure of protection, accountability and justice to survivors whose traffickers exploited them online that they have never seen before, FAIR Girls remains vigilant and committed to serving the needs of and advocating for justice for trafficking survivors.

Contact:
Erin Andrews, Executive Director of FAIR Girls
eandrews@fairgirls.com
fairgirls.org
@FAIR_Girls

October 18, 2017

Sex Trafficking Survivors Deserve Safe Housing & FAIR Girls Support of the Housing for Survivors of Sex Trafficking Act (H.R. 3942)

Sex trafficking is a crime that at its core attacks the most vulnerable in our society.  At FAIR Girls, we know that sex trafficking victims often experience child and sexual abuse, poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, and discrimination prior to being sold into sex trafficking.  In a survey of our clients over the past three months alone, 45% of the survivors that FAIR Girls served experienced domestic violence before or during their trafficking experience.

In order for sex trafficking survivors to thrive after exploitation, they need safe, stable housing.  That is why FAIR Girls supports the Housing for Survivors of Sex Trafficking Act (H.R. 3942) introduced by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), and Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam) on October 4, 2017.

In 2014, FAIR Girls opened the only safe home in Washington, D.C. for young women survivors of human trafficking aged 18 to 26.   To date, more than 100 young women have lived in FAIR Girls’ Vida Home. However, the Vida Home is one of only a few safe homes across the country that specifically provide trauma-informed housing to survivors of human trafficking.

“I was hungry, homeless and had to sleep on park benches. Oftentimes, I didn’t have warm clothes.  I had to go to the parks and play on the swings in order to stay awake at night.  Sometimes I had to do things I didn’t want to do in exchange for food or a place to lay my head at night. The person who I thought loved me abused and sold me instead. Eventually though with help and housing, I got out of this life.”– Ashleigh, Age 20, FAIR Girls former survivor advocate and former Vida Home resident.

Sex trafficking survivors need specialized housing programs to address the complex trauma they have experienced at the hand of their trafficker. Sex trafficking, intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual violence are often interrelated in the abuse these young women have experienced their whole lives.  Traffickers often initiate a romantic or familial relationship with a vulnerable girl, posing as a boyfriend or caring father figure. Traffickers then exercise power and control by isolating the victim, rendering them economically dependent, homeless, and emotionally vulnerable. A trafficker’s control and coercion techniques include purposeful manipulation, emotional violence, threats, physical and sexual violence all meant to coerce or force the victim into performing sexual acts for the trafficker’s personal profit. Examples of such aggression include cycles of affection followed by violence, sexual humiliation and shaming, threats to loved ones, denying food or use of a bathroom, rape, forced prostitution and withholding emotional and physical intimacy for obedience.  Young women survivors of sex trafficking often develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, and Anxiety disorders that impair their ability to function. Without specialized services, including housing, untreated trauma can lead to cognitive and emotional changes that may further stunt their development and opportunities. Many girls live with prolonged pain, uncontrolled rage, and hopelessness.

The reality is that in order to effectively offer safe and stable housing for survivors of sex trafficking, organizations like FAIR Girls need reliable funding and resources.  Offering safe housing is not only the right thing to do to help bring victims of sex trafficking to a state of resiliency and hope, it is also economically practical.  The average cost of serving one young woman in FAIR Girls Vida Home for one night is approximately $71; this is compared to approximately $105 per night in an adult state correctional facility that does not provide trauma-informed serves.  During this month at the Vida Home, each young survivor receives food, safe shelter, clothing or emergency personal items, 24/7 crisis support, a dedicated case manager, court advocacy, and access to our FAIR Girls’ drop in center.

Additionally, FAIR Girls’ partners in law enforcement have recognized the positive impact of having safe, stable and specialized housing services available to the trafficking victims they recover in their criminal investigations and prosecution of traffickers.  Trauma-informed interactions with law enforcement, including referrals to safe housing like FAIR Girls’ Vida Home, decreases the likelihood that trafficking victims will be further unjustly criminalized with multiple re-arrests in a well-meaning, but misdirected, effort to remove them from the immediate danger of street-based crime.  The experiences of our clients reflect the common-sense reality that safe transitional housing that helps trafficking victims stabilize and begin the process of healing from their trauma leads to them being less vulnerable to being re-trafficked and more likely to cooperate with law enforcement.  Without this critical specialized housing resource to offer, trafficking victims recovered by law enforcement are far more likely to be re-trafficked, re-arrested, re-incarcerated, or subsequently re-victimized and traumatized in detention settings until shelter beds become available.

Sex trafficking survivors, like all women survivors of violence, need and deserve safe and specialized housing. This bill takes one more important step down the right path of ensuring that sex trafficking survivors obtain the resources they so desperately need to free themselves from modern day slavery.

February 15, 2017

 

The Color of Sex Trafficking

A Statement on Race, Class, and Sex Trafficking in the Nation’s Capital

In the past month, the media has exploded with stories of the thousands of missing children reported each year to the police in Washington, D.C.  The numbers and other facts may have been misleading but the truth remains that a disproportionately high number of these children come from the two poorest areas of the nation’s capital.

To better clarify and hold true to what FAIR Girls sees in the daily lives of the exploited and trafficked girls we serve, we have held a series of recorded conversations with survivor leaders who work with FAIR Girls’ team as advocates.

Girls in D.C. are scared.  The media storm has swept over the roots of why children leave home or become missing in Washington, D.C. and the impact is that many girls now wonder, “Am I next?” To be clear, not every missing girl is being sex trafficked.  Most are not kidnapped.  However, at FAIR Girls, we know that disconnected and homeless youth are seriously at risk of being trafficked.  The city is on high alert and child welfare and court agencies have referred eleven new minor girls to FAIR Girls.  All had previously been reported as missing.

What has been portrayed as an epidemic of missing girls is really a series of systemic injustices that play out in the lives of thousands of children in D.C. and around the country.  Sex trafficking has a color in the national capital region.  We must together be brave enough to say why.

In ten years, FAIR Girls has served more than 1000 young women and girls who have survived human trafficking.  The stories of the clients FAIR Girls sees every single day at our drop-in or living in our safe home are the evidence that sex trafficking occurs where there is an absence of rights, opportunities, and safety. Approximately 90% of the girls we serve in the nation’s capital are girls of color,  70% have or were in the child welfare system, and 80% experienced homelessness prior to being trafficked.  Our clients are 10% immigrants and 20% identify as LGBTQ.  They are wrapped up in the child welfare system and have experienced domestic violence (74%) and child abuse (90%) at alarming rates.  They suffer debilitating bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts at exponential rates.

“Children are running from or to something.  They are scared and think they will be blamed or locked up if they are caught after running away.  I feel like when people say that kids are just running because they feel like it, they miss the whole point. Kids run because they do not feel loved, some feel like there are too many people in their house, or they are afraid of someone in the house, or they are looking for something, likely love, that they do not get at home.  Then, they get caught up in the juvenile system and they feel like no one is trying to help them.”

– Alona Sindile, FAIR Girls Survivor Advocate

When a newly identified survivor comes to FAIR Girls (90% are American girls from the general DMV area), our case managers sit down with each one to learn her story and understand her needs.  The first barriers we tackle are those that likely made the girls vulnerable toward sex trafficking in the first place.   These include access to medical services, educational opportunities, transportation, job opportunities, healthy food, and affordable fair housing.   Specifically, here in the nation’s capital we at FAIR Girls have seen the girls we serve suffer the impact of the “School-to-Prison Pipeline;” school push-out of girls of color; the disparate impact of city planning on affordable housing options and neighborhoods of color; the lack of healthy and fresh food options in neighborhoods of color; the closing of schools and after-school programs that keep kids engaged and safe while parents (often single) work multiple jobs; the lack of efficient public transportation from neighborhoods of color to parts of the city where higher paying jobs exist; and the lack of identification documents arising out of reasonable fears regarding the immigration status of themselves or their family members.

It is FAIR Girls’ experience, that while a significant portion of the number of children reported missing every year are teens that have run away multiple times, many more girls are never reported missing at all.  Furthermore, when a child involved in the juvenile justice system runs away from home, they are not treated as “critical missing.”  They are treated as a fugitive of the law.  Consequently, many children who are missing are not treated as they should be, but rather, they are further stigmatized and marginalized without ever exploring why they are running away or missing.  Thus, to accurately reflect the population of children that are missing in the nation’s capital we must first change how our juvenile justice system responds to youth who leave home or foster care and then begin working to reduce their barriers to services and safe housing.

FAIR Girls is now a member of the newly formed Mayor’s Task Force on Missing and Exploited Children.  Along with the Mayor’s office, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), child welfare agencies, and other community agencies, FAIR Girls continues to advocate for survivor-informed solutions, firmly rooted in the experiences of our clients, to these issues.

“City officials need to understand where people are coming from and what is going on.  They have to show more compassion and understanding. There was a part where I got so deep in it that I thought that if people were going to sell me then I’d sell myself. I started to think that was all I was worth.  Thank goodness I had the ability inside me to remember my dreams and goals that I had as a child. That is how I got out. I went to the hospital and they got me to FAIR Girls.  But, a lot of girls don’t know help is out there and so they stay where they are suffering.”

– Tutu Scott, FAIR Girls Survivor Advocate

It is heartening that the MPD police report indicates that almost all of the children reported missing are eventually found and safely returned home. But, the real questions we should be asking is “Why are so many children running away and where are they while they are gone? and “Where are they sleeping and who is giving them food?”  Teens of color, like FAIR Girls Survivor Advocate Tutu Scott, who have survived not only being “one of the thousands missing,” but also being sex trafficked as a teenager have valuable insights to add to this discussion. They can share the reality of what led them to become “missing,” what held them enslaved to a trafficker, and what they needed to free themselves.  Their voices should be the loudest and most respected in this discussion.  We should be listening to them, heeding their warnings or we are doomed to perpetuate this cycle in our city.

“Teens need real choices and to understand where they can go for safety.  They need drop in centers, shelter, mentors, after school programming, chances to overcome abuse at home or in school.  Teens need to have real options and play a role in their own life plan. “

– Tutu Scott, FAIR Girls Survivor Advocate


It is time to connect the dots between the real barriers that communities of color in the nation’s capital disproportionately face every day and the alarming numbers of missing children, especially girls, from those communities.  FAIR Girls has seen first-hand how these barriers make girls in these communities vulnerable to the traffickers ready and willing to exploit them.  It is no secret to those working with victims in this sphere that human trafficking happens along the fault lines of rampant inequality.  We can no longer afford to ignore or step over those fault lines.  If we truly want to reduce the number of missing, exploited or trafficked children in this city,  we must acknowledge the inequalities right in front of us, we must recognize and address the reality that in this city girls from disadvantaged communities of color are disproportionately at risk of being trafficked.  Perhaps most importantly, we must engage ourselves in a full, frank and factually accurate discussion, alongside the survivors from these communities, if we hope to effectively combat the scourge of child trafficking in the nation’s capital. 

Authored by: Andrea Powell, Hannah DeMartini, Erin Andrews alongside Alona Sindile and Tutu Scott

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