SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Christine McDonald says she received seven felonies convicted of prostitution during the 17 years she was involved in sex trafficking in Missouri.
“Eventually, I clawed my way out, with minimal support,” she said.
But as she ran free from her trafficker she hit a wall when the chains of her criminal record held her back again.
“Being rejected by places to live, being rejected by jobs, being rejected by services,” McDonald said. “And the stigmatization.”
Doctor Rachael Herrington, co-founder and chair of STAND Against Trafficking, says the law itself is sometimes used by the trafficker to keep a victim from leaving.
“That’s sometimes used against them, that they’re a prostitute, and they’ve been arrested for prostitution. And they don’t have another choice to get out because of their criminal record,” she said. “And unfortunately that’s actually the reality for them.”
A bill proposed by Senator Jamilah Nasheed, SB 792, aims at changing that reality by allowing those convicted of prostitution to request such felonies be expunged from their records.
“It’s important that we actually turn the table and start to view it as a crime where there is a victim and the victim is the prostitute,” said Dr. Herrington. “A lot of the research I’ve done just calls it paid rape. It’s what it is.”
Dr. Herrington says keeping these felonies in victims’ records hinders them from moving on.
“They are not able to acquire certifications and certain degrees. They are not able to move into career fields that allow them to move out of poverty and to move out of the situations that are forcing them to stay there,” she said.
McDonald has now been an advocate for 14 years. She has authored two books about the sex trafficking industry and says she’ll continue being a voice for others.
“I can’t change the struggle that I made to get to where I am today, but I can break down those walls and barriers for people that come behind me,” she said.
The bill is still being discussed in committee if passed it will head to the floor in the next few weeks.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
STAND Against Trafficking is holding a public event at Drury Unversity in Lay Hall at 6:30 p.m.