Skip to main content

Bill Lets Survivors of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Tell Their Stories in Court

AB 1497 ensures survivors of violence can share their stories in court and allows judges to consider trauma in sentencing decisions

For immediate release:
  • Nate Allbee
  • (415) 756-0561

Sacramento – Today Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) announced the Legal Justice for Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Victims Act that will ensure that survivors of violent acts—who are then found guilty of committing violence against their attackers—can share their full stories in court and allows judges to consider their experiences when making sentencing decisions. 

In California, 34% of women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes—many of these women are caught in years-long cycles of horrific abuse. Women who are survivors of human trafficking have a shocking 90% chance of being arrested and charged with a crime rather than being rescued from the people trafficking them. Survivors of both types of abuse are often arrested and punished simply for protecting themselves or their family’s lives.

California law stops survivors of abuse from sharing relevant information about their victimization and from accessing legal protections and remedies during court processes. AB 1497 simply allows survivors of violence to share their trauma in court in order to allow judges and the jury to make a more informed decision during sentencing. 

“People who commit crimes should be held accountable for the things they’ve done,” said Haney. “But if we want to achieve real justice we have to include the experiences of these women who have been victimized and who commit crimes out of desperation.”

AB 1497 provides access to legal processes known as an “affirmative defense” and “vacatur” for survivors of violence. An affirmative defense can be used if evidence shows that a survivor was coerced to commit an offense as a direct result of their trauma and that they had a reasonable fear of harm. Vacatur allows survivors to petition the court to clear their record of convictions and arrests for offenses that were the direct result of their abuse and victimization. 

“AB 1497 is important to me because it will allow me the opportunity to have my voice and experience as a survivor of violence acknowledged and considered in the court process,” said Adrianna Griffith, a survivor and advocate for the Justice for Survivors Coalition. “I’ll finally be able to apply for vacatur and remove the thing that constantly reminds me of the person who exploited and abused me. I will no longer have to explain my abuse and trauma when applying for housing or employment. I can simply live freely for the first time in a long time.”

“It’s simply time to ensure all victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual violence, or other forms of violence have the opportunity to share their stories in the court process when they are charged with crimes, and have access to legal pathways that can open up housing, food, and education opportunities,” said Kate Walker Brown, Senior Director of the Collaborative Responses to Commercial Sexual Exploitation Initiative with the National Center for Youth Law. “By supporting AB 1497, California policymakers can ensure that no victim of sexual and gender-based violence is blocked from the opportunity to introduce evidence of their victimization in the court process, and that the violent trauma they experienced is not used against them or ignored in the state’s legal system.”