The Survivors Project
Bringing hope to survivors of human trafficking,
intimate partner violence, and other abuse.
The Texas justice system currently incarcerates children whose crimes were a direct result of, or incident to, human trafficking, intimate partner violence, and other abuse. Too often the justice system fails to see these children as survivors of crime in need of a trauma-informed response to their victimization, and instead prosecutes them for their own crimes and too often for the crimes of their abusers.
In Texas, kids as young as 14 years old can be prosecuted as adults, meaning that they face time in adult jails and prisons. This has harmful consequences for their health, their emotional well-being, and their futures. It often means being sent far from their families and supporters. Being charged as an adult makes a child 34% more likely to end up back in the system upon release. It also increases the risk of victimization and self-harm: children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities, and 36 times more likely to commit suicide.
Unfortunately, research also indicates that far too many of these children are being prosecuted for offenses stemming from their own victimization. The National Survivor Network (NSN) conducted a survey of 130 survivors of human trafficking and over 40% of these survivors were arrested 9 times or more for actions performed under coercion by their adult abusers. This reality reflects what research has long demonstrated, and what the United States Supreme Court now recognizes: children are uniquely vulnerable to their environments. That is, young people are highly susceptible to outside pressures and behavioral models, and when they experience trauma, their developing cognitive and emotional systems are often adversely impacted. The end result is that children, predictably and tragically, may recreate the chaos and dysfunction they have experienced in violation of criminal laws.
Resulting criminal records – both arrest records and related court documents – then follow survivors and create barriers that impact their independence, stability, and safety. 73% of respondents in the NSN survey reported losing or not receiving employment because of criminal records that were directly related to their having been trafficked. 58% also reported inaccessibility to safe and affordable housing for the same reason. In other words, the current, retributive approach to the conduct of survivors effectively ensures that the trauma of childhood abuse is lifelong, heightening the likelihood of victimization in adult prisons and of socioeconomic degradation thereafter.
It need not be this way. Just as the malleability of children makes them uniquely vulnerable to negative influences and the effects of trauma, their developing psyches also create the unique potential for healing and reform. With appropriate interventions – replacing traumatic environments with secure, structured ones; providing appropriate therapies, education, and career training; fostering the skills to permit trust and develop interpersonal relationships – children can recover from prior trauma and lead productive, joyful lives. Indeed, the experience of such reformed survivors can be a tremendous resource for others, modeling the capacity for change for young people presently embroiled in traumatic and/or criminal environments. Thus, the problem with the current approach is one of perspective: when we look only at the offense conduct young people, we respond retributively and punish children for their experience of abusive environments. But if we are able to see the whole child and understand offense conduct as a result of prior trauma and abuse, we can heal and rehabilitate.
Youth deserve legal protections and experienced lawyers to challenge unconstitutional laws, oppose unfair policies or practices, and hold systems accountable when they harm youth and their families.
LSJA stands with young people to hold systems accountable. We push for change through impact litigation, appellate advocacy, amicus (friend of the court) briefs, policy reform, professional training and education, and strategic communications.
We advocate for constitutional rights to due process and access to counsel. We fight for racial and economic justice for youth and their families.
Our advocacy work also ensures that laws, policies, and practices are informed by research, consistent with children’s developmental needs, and reflective of human rights values.
September 11th, 12:00-1:30 PM
Ethical Issues in Representing Survivors of HT and DV, Part I 1 Hour Ethics
September 18th 12:00-2:00 pm
Ethical Issues in Representing Survivors of HT and DV, Part II, 2 Hour Ethics
In the news
Governor Created A Special Process, And Now A Nonprofit Initiative Is Emerging To Help People Take Advantage Of It.
Read full article here
She Says Her Best Friend Sold Her To A Pimp. The court says She's A Criminal.
Read full article here
Sex Trafficking Victims Are Stuck Behind Bars. This Texas Bill Could Help Free Them.
Read full article here
Survivors project partners
"TO THE PEOPLE IN MY SITUATION" BY AN LSJA CLIENT
I was raped, abused, watched my father beat my mother black and blue
I was taken away at 4
Found in a bar, nowhere to sleep but an abandoned car
Placed into placement, it wasn’t home so I hated it
Went back home but nothin’ had changed
Everything remained the same
I accepted it
My mother used to call me a stupid little bitch
Told me I would never amount to shit
But I knew when she looked me in my eyes, she was seeing her reflection
A connection to her past, a time where she was once neglected
Disrespected by the people who were supposed to show her love
But instead never gave two fucks
These are the same people who belittled me
Told me I was a piece of pussy and that’s all I’d ever be
Well while all these degrading things that defined me made me appreciate my qualities
I accepted it as my reality
When I was 14, I ran away
That’s when my life really changed
My mother introduced me to older men
Told me to make them good friends
What I didn’t have, they provided
But it came with a price: sex
After one she brought in the next
Enough about my mom for now, let’s talk about my dad
He put me on game and told me sex wasn’t the way
He bought me my first drop, after that there was no turnin’ back
I watched him sell drugs and came to the conclusion that my father was a plug
Didn’t have to worry about when I was gonna eat next or if I was gonna have somewhere to sleep at
My father gave me money and tried to buy my love, but the money could never amount to a hug
I got caught up in the fast life
It distracted me from my past life where my grandfather molested me at a time when no one was there protectin’ me
He wasn’t the only one, after a while I went numb
I didn’t endure this alone
My brother was what gave me hope
When I was 15, I made a bad decision that landed me in prison
At the time I didn’t care, it didn’t matter if I was here or there
The crazy thing about it all is that I still had no voice at all
No one asked my side of the story, but it’s okay because I found my voice
I will speak for myself and anyone else who has been or is a victim of abuse
I want you to know you are not alone
Though our stories may not be the same, it is our pain that is
To my victims, I would apologize
But from experiences in my life I realize your words mean nothing so I’m gonna show you through my actions
I’m genuinely remorseful for everything that happened