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Proposed Bill Would Help Trafficking Victims Expunge Prostitution Records

As a minor, Christine McDonald was the victim of sex trafficking for 17 years. Because of that, she has been convicted of felony prostitution.

She hasn't been able to forget it. 

"Fourteen years out of the life it's still a barrier for me. I've still struggled to find work. I still struggle about where I can live. People don't want to rent to me because I have felony prostitutions," McDonald said.

Senate Bill 792 would change that. 

Sponsored by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, the bill would allow those who have pleaded guilty or been convicted of prostitution to apply to have the conviction removed from their record. If the court finds that the person was acting "under the influence of an agent" — as in the case of sex trafficking — the court would expunge their record.

"This could change not only my life, but dozens and dozens of victims across Missouri that have been trafficked and commercially sexually exploited," said McDonald, who is now the director of advocacy, outreach and curriculum at the Restoration House of Greater Kansas City , a residential program for survivors of sex trafficking. "They would have opportunities to move forward with their lives and leave their past behind."

McDonald testified in front of Senate members during the bill's hearing on Monday.

Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, asked how a court would distinguish whether the person had been trafficked.

"If you have ever been involved in prostitution, be it forcefully or not forcefully, those individuals will have the opportunity to (apply to) have their records be expunged," Nasheed said.

Senate Bill 792 was not the only bill to be heard during the first Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee meeting of the year.

Senate Bill 793, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, would require children under the age of 18 to be tried in juvenile court for most criminal offenses, according to the bill's summary. Persons under the age of 18 but who are certified as an adult would not be tried in juvenile court. Currently, children who are older that 17 are tried for criminal offenses in general jurisdiction courts, according to the summary. 

Many people testified in favor of the bill, or went on the record in support of it, including Sarah Johnson, the director of juvenile defense and policy for the Missouri State Public Defender System.

"We are in full support of the 'raise the age bill,'" Johnson said. "Children who are in the adult facilities are more likely to be subjected to solitary confinement, they are more likely to subjected to violence or sexual assault."

No one testified against the "18 at 18" bill. 

Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, presented another bill which would allow the Missouri state auditor to audit any government entity when requested by prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, according to the bill's summary.

Senate Bill 552 also would change the punishment for violating lobbying and conflict of interest provisions and the offense of official misconduct. Some repeat offenses and official misconduct in the first degree, which were previously misdemeanors, would become felonies.

Joan Gummels, senior legal and policy advisor for the State Auditor's Office, testified in support of the bill.

Dixon said the bill was identical to Senate Bill 176, which the committee voted on last year but did not become law.

"We were trying to address situations where the auditor could not go in and address some obvious corruption," Dixon said during the hearing.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvithorvitm@missouri.edu.