January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Since 2010, the month has been dedicated to raising awareness about the different forms of human trafficking, also known as modern slavery, and educating people about this crime and how to spot it. “Did you know that Florida ranks third in the country for reports of trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline
Over the past two years, Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida has provided critical supportive legal services to victims and survivors of human trafficking through their Representation, Information, Guidance for Human Trafficking Survivors (RIGHTS) Project. RIGHTS was created in 2019 by Victoria Sexton, an attorney with Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, who was inspired to create the project after meeting and speaking with several anti-human trafficking advocates and survivors. She created the RIGHTS Project to address the absence of trauma informed and survivor informed free legal services in Broward County.
Sexton has not only helped survivors file for official documents like birth certificate, social security card and driver’s license, but has also helped survivors with divorce legal proceedings, apply for orders of protection, expunge their criminal records, and other holistic services like applying for SNAP benefits or connecting victims to other social service providers.
A huge barrier faced by survivors are criminal records related to their victimization. Florida has an expungement statute specifically for survivors of human trafficking to erase these records. The legislature revisited this statute in 2021, making great improvements to survivors’ access to record expungement. Under this statute, Sexton has been able to help survivors of trafficking in the justice system move forward and heal.
Through this program, CCLA is able to help survivors achieve increased safety, independence, self-sufficiency, and well-being in their lives through meaningful and comprehensive access to the legal system through a Program Attorney. Representation is survivor-focused, ensuring the survivor is involved and informed throughout the entire process. The RIGHTS project respects survivor autonomy and ensures the legal process reflects the survivors’ goals and wishes.
Thanks to Sexton’s diligent work providing access to legal services, a three-year grant from the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs was recently awarded to Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida. Sexton can continue to help victims with supportive services and improve the outcome for victims in Broward County. The significant grant in the amount of $349,995, awarded to only four other organizations nationwide, will allow funding to provide the critical legal aid services needed to get these survivors back on their feet.