Michigan women who survived human trafficking seek pardons for crimes they say were justified

‘Crimes that are committed while a person is a victim of human trafficking should be looked at differently’

This is the story of two Michigan women -- both victims of human trafficking -- who were sentenced and served their time for crimes they committed. They’re asking to be pardoned for those crimes and hoping others will recognize that they were not criminals, but victims.

This is the story of two Michigan women -- both victims of human trafficking -- who were sentenced and served their time for crimes they committed.

They’re asking to be pardoned for those crimes and hoping others will recognize that they were not criminals, but victims.

Joyce Haskins’ story: ‘I don’t apologize for living’

Joyce Haskins was sentenced to natural life in prison after killing her trafficker to escape the abuse.

She still remembers the beatings she endured while she was being trafficked.

“They beat me. Finally, the stick was broken across my head, I thought it was over. He called for another stick,” Haskins said. “So when it was over, the judge said, ‘You’ll die in prison,’ and sentenced me to natural life. That’s prison without parole. Mandatory life sentence. So I went to prison.”

With the help of a jailhouse attorney, she was able to leave prison after serving 17 years. Her criminal record still shadows her every move.

“For years I lived with, you know, the guilt and shame of not only what happened to me out there in those streets, but what I ended up doing in order to stop being sold,” Haskins said.

Some people will say she can’t be pardoned, that her crime was a serious one.

“I don’t apologize for living. If there had been some help for me back then,” Haskins said.

Haskins is now a clinical social worker and sits on a variety of boards to help human trafficking victims. She has rebuilt her life and just filed a permit for a pardon.

Leslie King’s story: ‘Everything on my record is related to human trafficking’

Leslie King is also hoping to be pardoned.

“I’ve tried to get my record expunged several times, but to no avail,” King said.

King was trafficked from the age of 15, until she was 36 years old.

She was convicted of several crimes and served her time.

“Everything on my record is related to human trafficking. From the theft, to concealed weapons and all of that, was related to human trafficking. A lot of that I was made to do from my pimps,” King said. “It was either I do what he says or I would get beaten.”

Joseph Project helps women rebuild

Both women are seeking pardons for their crimes.

“Crimes that are committed while a person is a victim of human trafficking should be looked at differently,” attorney Adam Bruski said. “They are not voluntary acts in the same way that other crimes are. And we think that is what the pardon process is for.”

The women should hear back within 60 days if their application is approved, and then it can be sent to the governor’s desk.

“Whether I get the pardon or not, someone will know that Joyce is fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves,” Haskins said.

The Joseph Project was instrumental in helping both women in their cases and in their personal lives. It has helped them rebuild what was lost.


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About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.