LOS ANGELES (February 16, 2017) Bet Tzedek, one of the nation’s premiere public interest law firms, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), one of the nation’s premiere legal and social service providers for survivors of modern day slavery, and California State Controller Betty Yee are proud to collaborate on legislation that will clarify existing California law to ensure that human trafficking survivors can receive compensation from the California Victims Compensation Program (VCP) for the value of the labor or services victims were forced to provide on behalf of their traffickers. Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) introduced the legislation today in the California State Assembly as AB 900.
While existing California laws allows the VCP to compensate human trafficking survivors for such things as mental health support, as well as medical and relocation expenses, and while the VCP is currently statutorily allowed to compensate victims for income lost as direct result of the crime, to date no trafficking survivors have been able to recover for the income they have lost during their trafficking experience. Given the unique nature of trafficking crimes, survivors are not able to provide the sort of documentation requested by the VCP to recover compensation for lost income. Current VCP rules require formal evidence of employment – e.g., documentation from the Tax Board, workers’ compensation carriers, or employers (the traffickers themselves) – that are impossible to satisfy in nearly every human trafficking case. Requiring survivors who were exploited as modern-day slaves to provide this type of evidence effectively precludes them from obtaining lost income compensation. AB 900 amends the law to expressly state that the VCP may compensate human trafficking survivors for income loss suffered for the period of time that the survivors were forced to labor with little or no pay. The bill also would ensure that human trafficking survivors can rely on evidence other than official employment documentation to support their applications for lost income compensation.
According to Matthew DeCarolis, staff attorney at Bet Tzedek, “The bill will ensure that survivors are compensated for their servitude. We are proud that California continues to be at the forefront of providing assistance and support to survivors of human trafficking.”
“Under current regulatory guidance, human trafficking victims in California are not able to recover lost income through the state’s Victim Compensation Program, despite suffering economic loss due to the crimes committed against them. This legislation would ensure our systems are appropriately recognizing the unique form of commercial exploitation trafficking victims face and is essential in helping them rebuild their lives,” stated Stephanie Richard, Policy & Legal Services Director, CAST.
Voices of Survivors
“When I eventually escaped, I had no money to my name. I escaped with nothing but the clothes on my body. I had no papers or records that would have shown how much and for how long my trafficker forced me to work with him without pay … I know that some organizations will provide some of the basic needs for survivors, but receiving lost wages from the Board would help survivors [like me] to provide for their loved ones and cover personal and basic needs like educational classes, to become a self-sufficient individual that can be restored and reintegrated to society in a positive way.”
– Rafael Bautista
“When I was 18 years old I was targeted by traffickers for the life of prostitution. There were no records of the number of dates or days or weeks that I was forced to work. I only knew all of the information because I was told to make a quota and I knew that I worked every night. When I escaped trafficking I had no income or close family. If I was able to get lost wages compensation after escaping trafficking, I would have been able to start the process of rebuilding my life much sooner. I support fixing the regulations so other victims of human trafficking can receive this important compensation.”
– Annika Mack
“There were no documents that could have proven to other people the details of what was done to me during the time I was trafficked. No one was recording how long I worked every day or how much money my trafficker made off of me. All I had was my memory and my word, but I knew these details vividly. This lost income money could help human trafficking survivors with the support they need after their victimization. Recovery has no time limit.”
– Monica Anderson
CAST provides life-saving services to survivors of human trafficking and mobilizes citizens to build a future where modern slavery no longer plagues our communities, our city or our world. Through partnerships with healthcare organizations, government benefits agencies, law enforcement and faith-based and cultural community groups, CAST is able to provide support at every phase of a human trafficking survivor’s journey to freedom.
About Bet Tzedek
Founded in 1974, Bet Tzedek pursues equal justice for all by providing high-quality, free legal services to low-income people of all racial and religious backgrounds, with a particular focus on seniors and people with disabilities. One of the nation’s premier public interest law firms, Bet Tzedek uses direct legal service, impact litigation, community outreach, and legislative advocacy in the areas of consumer rights, employment rights, elder justice/caregiver law, Holocaust reparations, housing, human trafficking, public benefits and real estate to serve more than 20,000 people every year.