I sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee reading my pre-written remarks on why they needed to change the language in the proposed bill allowing not just misdemeanors, but also felony charges, to be considered for vacatur and sealing for victims of sex trafficking. Between being rushed by the time limit of 3-minutes to the vacant stares of the politicians, I could feel my blood going from simmer to boil. I think this is why when one member questioned, "You're telling me that one of the women you help could actually get a job at let's say State Street if they didn't have a record?" that a blind rage took over.
Thankfully, calmness somehow prevailed and I was able to respond, "They should at least be given the chance."
Most days this is the simple truth that I fight for on behalf of the women I serve: JUST GIVE THEM A CHANCE.
Yes, if you run their background check, you will see misdemeanors, felonies, and sometimes even open cases. We have had women that come to us in order to show their bond officer they are able and willing to change their lives. But how can they change their life if the world will not give them a chance?
And yes, most places of employment will run those checks and then the job interview is over, even if she was showing the interviewee strong skills and a certain desire to be the best employee possible.
We run into this problem all of the time, a woman gets into month six, seven, eight of her program with us at Amirah, and then we see her start to spiral because it is almost impossible for her to find employment because of her past. The doubt floods to her brain, the negative lies of the past fill her again, and then the painful truth creeps into her head.
"If I settle for Dunkin' Donuts, I am going to make in a month what I could make in a night. How is that even worth it? They tell me that my life can change, but why am I here?"
This is the painful truth that we fight against every day as we look for people in the community that will support survivors. Right now, we have four to six amazing companies that will accept the resumes of survivors, knowing that when they run the background check, they will need to look past that record and accept the chance that this woman might be a risk.
While we are extremely grateful for these companies and the individuals who are a part of them, we know that we need so many more in order for the women of Amirah to truly be able to reintegrate themselves into society and thrive on their own one day.
This effort will take an entire shift in thinking, starting from the politicians to the constituents: just because someone has a misdemeanor or felony on their record does not mean that they are not ready to take their life back now. This should not mean that they are doomed to a life of customer service behind a coffee counter working to make ends meet on minimum wage. In fact, I am convinced that it is this cyclical system that is failing this population again and again that is one of the main reasons why "sex work" is somehow becoming an "empowered choice" for some out there.
This effort will take a shift in companies. Think with us practically and strategize with us on how to give the women of Amirah, as well as survivors out in the community, internships and job training opportunities that will give them a leg-up when they are looking for that career job (not just a job to pay the bills). Be bold to communicate this shift to your employees, so that the culture of the workplace becomes one where "We give second chances," is the motto.
The women who have re-entered the work force at Amirah have proven again and again that they are worth it to their employers. They are the top sales every month. They receive awards for their hard work. They make the customers smile, and bring those customers back. They become a part of the life and culture of the workplace. And they value their employment more than you will ever know or understand.
Just give them a chance.