October, 2018 Monthly Reflection

A Second Chance For Alexis: A Call To Action For Women’s Religious Communities In Ohio

by Sally Duffy, SC

A recent legislative victory in Ohio will allow survivors of trafficking to expunge their records of most crimes that can be linked back to trafficking. This clarifies opportunities the Safe Harbor Act intended to grant survivors when it was enacted six years ago.

 Survivors are often forced to participate in a broad range of illegal activity—from drug offenses to theft—for traffickers’ financial gain. This can result in hundreds of convictions.

Now, survivors will be able to avoid some of the barriers created by lengthy criminal records. They’ll be able to find meaningful employment, suitable housing and opportunities for furthering education.

The Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC) worked for three years on legislation to clarify the opportunities for survivors of human trafficking to expunge and seal criminal records

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Now, our Safe Harbor clients can finally have a true second chance. They can reclaim their lives and become full members of the community.

OJPC Deputy Director Sasha Naiman works directly with survivors of human trafficking through the Safe Harbor program.  “Now, our Safe Harbor clients can finally have a true second chance,” Naiman said. “They can reclaim their lives and become full members of the community. They can remove the shackles of human trafficking.”

Another advocacy effort in Ohio is a clemency application for a trafficking survivor named Alexis Martin. The Clemency application for Alexis asks Governor John Kasich to commute her sentence and issue a pardon, in the spirit and intent of Safe Harbor. Unfortunately there was and is an extraordinary miscarriage of justice when children get imprisoned for trying to escape violent, abusive traffickers.

Alexis was arrested at age 15 and sentenced to 21-years-to-life in adult prison, in connection with the murder of her pimp.

Alexis’s early childhood was marked by neglect, abuse, and trauma. By age 14, it is well-documented that Alexis was trafficked by violent, controlling pimps. Alexis was kidnapped, raped, starved, drugged, and beaten by these pimps; forced to dance at strip clubs; and forced to have sex with strangers. The pimps took all of the money Alexis made. She tried to get help from a juvenile probation officer, DYS, and her parents, but no one helped. At age 15, Alexis reached out to an ex-boyfriend and another female trafficking victim (who were both adults in their 20s) for help – to get some of her money back and to escape far away. Alexis thought that her ex-boyfriend would come to her pimp’s house, get the money, and get Alexis out. In the process of this “robbery,” the ex-boyfriend ended up killing Alexis’ pimp and hurting that pimps’ brother (another pimp, who was raping Alexis at that moment of the “robbery”). Alexis did not know that anyone would get hurt, and she is deeply sorry for the loss of life.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Because her attorney did not know about Ohio’s Safe Harbor law, he never fully explained how the robbery, assault, and homicide were related to the trafficking [/perfectpullquote]

Alexis was arrested in connection with the robbery and murder. The juvenile court recognized that she was a victim of human trafficking based on the clear underlying facts. Because her attorney did not know about Ohio’s Safe Harbor law, he never fully explained how the robbery, assault, and homicide were related to the trafficking – and he never asked the court to appoint a guardian ad litem, as required by Safe Harbor law. If the court had understood that this was an escape attempt, Alexis should have been granted a guardian ad litem under Ohio’s Safe Harbor Law. A guardian ad litem gives recommendations about a juvenile’s best interests and the most effective responses from the court, like addiction treatment and mental health services. Then, the court can put all charges on hold, place the juvenile in appropriate diversion activities, and – when the diversion is complete — dismiss and expunge all records of the case. However, Alexis never received a guardian ad litem; she also didn’t know she was entitled this type of advocate.

Instead, Alexis’ case was moved to adult court and she was convicted, at age 16, of robbery and murder. The court sentenced her to 21 years to life in adult prison. Alexis willingly talked to the FBI, and helped them catch some of the people involved in trafficking girls; she did this risking danger to herself. Then, Alexis, with a new attorney, appealed her case all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme Court recognized that Alexis was clearly a victim of trafficking and noted specific, troubling details about the trafficker’s control and exploitation of Alexis. “There is also evidence that Kerney trafficked Martin,” the ruling said. “According to Martin, Kerney had her perform exotic dances, sell drugs for him, prepare about eight other girls for prostitution, and collect money from them. Martin used the name Alexis Love and referred to Kerney as ‘Dad.’” Despite these facts, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against Alexis – because her trial attorney did not bring evidence that her offenses were related tothe sex slavery, abuse and violence she endured.

Today, Alexis is 20 years and incarcerated at the Dayton Correctional Institution. During her 6 years behind bars, Alexis has gotten her GED, is getting an HVAC certification, and is creating new prison programs to help other sex trafficking survivors heal.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]child-victims of sex traffickers should not spend 21-to-life in prison.[/perfectpullquote]

If women’s religious communities in Ohio would be willing to write a letter of support for Alexis Martin, please contact me. We need letters of support for Alexis’ application because child-victims of sex traffickers should not spend 21-to-life in prison.


Sally Duffy, SC {sduffy@srcharitycinti.org} serves on the board of Alliance to End Human Trafficking and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center.

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