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NEW YORK (Reuters) - She will not forget the "pimp stick" beatings and forced sex, but a 22-year-old New Yorker was allowed on Wednesday to erase her criminal prostitution record, the first U.S. citizen to do so under a new sex trafficking law.
Identified by authorities only as Ms. Johnson, a pseudonym used out of concern for her safety, the woman was a 13-year-old runaway when she was pushed into prostitution by a 21-year-old man she thought was her boyfriend, according to documents filed in state Supreme Court in the Bronx.
Over the next six years, the Bronx native was sold by pimps on the street and convicted three times for prostitution before a customer helped her to escape.
On Wednesday, her criminal record for prostitution was expunged by a judge who agreed with both prosecutors and defense attorneys that she was protected under a recent New York State law that equates pimps with sex traffickers.
Under the law, "pimp-controlled" prostitutes of any age are considered victims who should not bear the burden of convictions that can interfere with employment, housing, government benefits and other aspects of a law-abiding life.
"The law says any survivor of sex trafficking can try to have their record expunged if they prove the conviction obtained was the result of having been trafficked," said Legal Aid lawyer Kate Mogulescu, who defended the woman in court.
"This is the first case that involved pimp-controlled prostitution," Mogulescu said.
She said New York was the first state to pass a law to allow pimp-controlled prostitutes to expunge their records, and noted the woman is the first U.S. citizen helped by the law. Two other women aided by the law were not citizens.
Mogulescu is involved in an ongoing project aimed at rewriting the sex trafficking law so that such women are not convicted to begin with. "Now, unfortunately, the law only provides remedy for women already convicted," she said.
Until now, the woman, who has moved to Georgia and works in a Waffle House, has had to reveal her criminal convictions on job applications. The mother of two young children, she hopes to continue her education and pursue a career in health care.
The harsh rules of the pimp-controlled life she endured from the age of 13 were outlined in court documents.
"Through violence and manipulation, pimp-traffickers create a system in which their prostitutes are incapable of supporting themselves or escaping their reliance on the pimp," the court papers said.
Women under the control of a pimp must never use the pimp's true name and must make themselves physically lower than their pimp, standing on the street if the pimp claims the sidewalk.
They must earn a specific monetary quota through prostitution each might, must give it all to the pimp, and are forbidden from making eye contact with another pimp, the court papers said.
Any violation of these rules will result in "beatings with belts, baseball bats or 'pimp sticks', described as two coat hangers wrapped together.
The pimps also punish their prostitutes by kicking them, punching them, forcing them to lay naked on the floor and then have sex with another prostitute while others watched, or locking them in the trunk of a car to teach them a lesson."
The Bronx woman's courage in trying to clear her name and move on with her life was commended by both the defense and the prosecution.
"She was indeed the victim of human trafficking dating back to a young age," Steven Reed, spokesman for the Bronx district attorney's office, said in a statement.
"In spite of a very challenging set of circumstances and in some instances great danger, she has fought diligently and successfully to overcome these challenges, to educate herself, to be a strong and committed mother," he said.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston