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By Eunice Ghita

What does it mean to do justice? Are justice and mercy mutually exclusive? Does showing mercy mean that one foregoes justice, or is it possible that allowing mercy in the justice system will lead to more just outcomes? I have pondered these questions while working on this semester’s project. My team and I researched the laws regarding human trafficking in each U.S. state, looking, among other things, into whether the victims’ convictions can be set aside.

However, before we can even grapple with how the justice system should treat human trafficking victims, there is another question that must be answered. Who is a human trafficking victim? Before working on this project, I assumed that most human trafficking victims were foreigners who were abducted or deceived. However, this is not necessarily the case. In the United States, a third of those charged with prostitution began such activity before they were fifteen years old, before they would be able to consent to commercial sex. 96% of women who entered prostitution as juveniles were runaways, and 72% of all juvenile runaways were sexually and physically abused in the home. Did they choose a life of crime, or were they forced into this lifestyle? Is it their choice to continue living this way, or do they have no way out? Children who were sexually abused in the home ran away, only to be trapped again. Although it is more difficult to identify them, they still are human trafficking victims. It is important to recognize who the human trafficking victims are, as they must not be treated like criminals. While it is easier to categorize people as guilty or not guilty, this does not always result in fair outcomes. Yes, there is right and wrong, but while the law needs to punish wrongdoing, I realized even more how important it is to consider the person’s circumstances. Punishing a human trafficking victim can only lead to further victimization and more trauma. They should not face prosecution. Instead, they should receive the help they need to be able to change their situation and overcome the trauma. In this way, the justice system can also achieve its rehabilitation goal.

Fortunately, in recent years, many states have passed new laws that can rectify the fact that sometimes, human trafficking victims are convicted when they should not have been. In 2021, Virginia passed a law that allows for their convictions to be sealed. The Center for Global Justice helped in getting this law passed, and the Center continues to fight against human trafficking and help survivors get a fresh start. Being part of the Center’s great work this semester was truly a privilege.

Eunice Ghita, Law Clerk

This post was written by a student with the Center for Global Justice. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.

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