Public Comments for: HB578 - Victim of sex trafficking; clarifies definition to include minors, affirmative defense, etc.
Hello and Good Afternoon, My name is Olivia Reposa and I am here to support the passing of HB579. I have been a resident of the Hampton Roads area for over 10 years. I’ve spent years incarcerated and even gave birth to my daughter in jail. I'm still on probation and to this day, I cannot get a driver’s license. My crime? I was a victim of human trafficking. I was sexually and physically abused as a child, and began “prostituting” at 17 for food and shelter and was quickly recruited by traffickers. I was arrested on multiple occasions. Each time I left jail I swore I would never go back but, due to my criminal record, I could only get minimum wage jobs that rarely provided more than 20 hours a week and a monthly income that was nowhere near enough to afford fair market rent. I couldn’t afford to leave the life and there was always another pimp to help me stay. On November 2, 2016, federal law enforcement conducted a human trafficking sting at a Norfolk hotel room where I was being trafficked. During my rescue, law enforcement found narcotics inside the hotel room. As a result, I was charged with felony level crimes to include procession of heroin and misdemeanors to include residing in a bawdy place and solicitation. I served 14 months in jail where my first and only child was born. During and after my imprisonment, I worked diligently with federal and local law enforcement on a very complex human trafficking case. My pimp had forced me and 33 other VA-based girls and women to perform unthinkable acts. Just as he forced us to meet a 10 john nightly quota, he forced us to commit an array of crimes - many felony level crimes - on his behalf. On 11 March 2019, I exited jail to no one with nothing besides new charges on my record. I knew it’d be hard to get a job or housing. I knew how easy it would be to go back to prostituting, how quickly pimps would find me. Luckily, a Survivor Ventures staff member active in the jail heard I had been released, located me and offered services. I was accepted into the Survivors to Entrepreneurs program on 20 March 2019. Through the program I accessed crisis shelter, gainful employment and the ability to sign a lease with rental assistance. Since April 2019 I have been paying my rent, bills and taxes. Something I was never able to do before. I found my voice and became an advocate for other victims, trying to help others out of the life and into the light. Today I am the Survivors to Entrepreneurs Program Director for Virginia because unlike most employers, my history and criminal record are a bonus and not a hindrance to employment. The passing of this bill will allow many more victims/survivors to have a second chance at life without barriers. So that they too can be a contributing member of society. Thank you for hearing my testimony today.