Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida (CCLA) is pleased to announce that The Florida Bar Foundation has awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to Victoria Sexton, Esq. Ms. Sexton has joined the CCLA team and will represent survivors of human trafficking in South Florida, which is considered a hot spot for human trafficking. She will conduct a community needs assessment and advocate for trafficking survivors by providing holistic direct civil legal services. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, so it is timely to highlight the Fellowship and the important legal work being done on behalf of survivors.
Sexton was inspired to create the Representation, Information, Guidance for Human Trafficking Survivors (RIGHTS) 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. Survivors of trafficking often are dealing with mental, physical, financial, and legal issues. Remedies to these various issues may cause re-traumatization to the survivor as he/she retells and relives his/her experiences.
“My goal was to create an environment that is survivor informed and that acts as a “one stop” legal service for survivors” Sexton says. “Survivors should not have to recount their experiences to several different attorneys in order resolve all of their legal issues.”
Sexton hopes to avoid re-traumatizing survivors by assisting them with various legal issues and by acting as a liaison with other community partners to assist survivors with connecting with other providers.
Jumorrow Johnson, President of the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, has had the opportunity to work with Sexton on relevant matters and projects in the community. “Representation, Information, and Guidance for Human Trafficking Survivors (RIGHTS) is needed and long overdue in our community,” says Johnson. “There have been so many gaps in services when it comes to survivors of human trafficking and we are still experiencing gaps. However, RIGHTS gives a little glimmer of hope when it comes to closing that gap. Because of RIGHTS, survivors now have assistance with restraining orders/injunctions against their traffickers/pimps, which most often than not, are the boyfriends of the victims. The work that Victoria is doing in our community plays a significant role in these victims’ lives. The RIGHTS Project is a much needed resource to help us combat a very real issue.”
Sexton represents survivors in civil cases which include expungements, name changes, divorces, parental responsibility, paternity, child support, domestic servitude, t-visas, and civil injunctions. Additionally, she is heavily engaged in community advocacy. She is involved in several local task forces, coalitions, and community provider groups in Broward County. In her short time at CCLA, she has made community presentations about human trafficking, the signs of human trafficking, and about her Equal Justice Works Fellowship.
In Florida there is a statute that permits expungements for certain charges/convictions if the individual was being trafficked at the time he/she committed the crime. Having certain convictions on your criminal record can prohibit you from obtaining citizenship, housing, jobs, and education among other things. Many survivors had spotless records until they were trafficked. Having a record not only prohibits them from moving forward but serves as a constant reminder of the trauma they suffered at the hands of their traffickers. Sexton is hopeful that she can help her clients move forward, free from the hurdles of a criminal record, by using the Florida expungement statute,
Survivors of human trafficking request name changes for a myriad of reasons. For some, it’s a matter of safety. A survivor’s trafficker may still be in the community and the survivor may be concerned for his/her safety. For others, his/her trafficker may have been a family member. Carrying on the family name after suffering trauma and horrific experiences at the hands of a family member is difficult and a constant reminder. For some survivors, they simply want a fresh start, beginning with a new name/identity. Whatever the reason, Sexton believes a name change is a way for survivors to end one chapter and begin a new chapter in their lives.
A form of trafficking that is often overlooked is domestic servitude. Domestic servitude cases often involve international marriages or international hires for home services. The victim is then brought to the United States and forced to work long hours in the house. Often, the victim is not permitted to learn English, learn how to drive, or allowed to socialize outside the household. In these cases, the victim feels trapped and unaware of his/her options. Sexton provides legal services for divorce, parental responsibility, civil injunctions, and immigration services to help the victim escape his/her current situation and begin a life free from his/her trafficker.
As a comprehensive survivor advocate, Sexton ensures that both her client’s social and legal needs are addressed. There are some victims whose legal case brings them into Broward County. Because the victim may not be a local he/she might not only need legal assistance but also require assistance obtaining services for transportation and lodging. In cases like these, where social services are needed, Sexton acts as a liaison to coordinate services with other survivor providers.
Sexton was born in raised in Broward County, Florida and graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Sociology. In May 2019, she graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C. where she focused her studies on survivor advocacy. She was admitted to The Florida Bar in September 2019.
We thank Sexton for dedicating her time and effort to help change the lives of survivors in Broward County.
Equal Justice Works is a nonprofit organization that uses a network of lawyers, law students, legal service organizations and supporters to ensure public service and equal justice in America. Having invested more than $4 million in 80 Fellowships since 1999, The Florida Bar Foundation is one of the largest funders of the Equal Justice Works Fellowship program. Fellows’ two-year civil legal aid projects provide impoverished groups with the representation and implementation needed to make progress in their communities.
Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida (CCLA) is a nonprofit law firm established in 2003 and funded, in part, by the Legal Services Corporation. The mission is to improve the lives of low income persons in our community through advocacy, education, representation, and empowerment. To learn more about CCLA or to make a donation visit CoasttoCoastLegalAid.org.