Advocates for women arrested on prostitution charges want the justice system to adopt a different approach, NPR reports. Instead of being locked up, many prostitutes should actually be considered victims of human trafficking, they contend. They’re starting to offer those women a way to clean up the criminal records left behind. With the help of volunteer lawyers and a little-known law, one such woman convinced a Maryland judge to wipe away her conviction on prostitution charges.
It’s a process known as vacatur. It’s now an option in 20 states for people who can persuade a judge that someone forced or coerced them into selling their bodies. Jessica Emerson is a lawyer who helped the woman, 24, clear her record. “This is justice,” Emerson says. “It’s finally giving these individuals their lives back.” Emerson is leading the way in Maryland, where the vacatur law has been on the books for years but used just twice. “If you are not addressing their criminal record, you are sending them back out into the world with a bulls eye on their back,” Emerson says. “Because the second they go and try to get a job, the second they try to apply for safe housing, they’re going to have a roadblock.”