As awareness has grown about people being exploited by human traffickers, another major push has been to pass legislation to tighten restrictions and vacate the criminal convictions of those compelled by their traffickers to break the law.
At least seven states, including New York in 2010, have passed laws vacating the convictions of trafficking victims who meet the legal standards, and similar legislation is pending in New Jersey and elsewhere.
"We need to recognize that victims who were coerced should get those crimes vacated; if they are enslaved, why should their crimes be considered criminal acts?" said Bridgette Carr, director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.
Carr said people forced into the sex trade and exploited by traffickers should be categorized as sex abuse victims, but are often viewed as "hybrid 'victim-criminals.'"
Those with prostitution-related criminal convictions have trouble getting jobs, applying for mortgages, or qualifying for student financial aid, experts say, even if they were forced into the lifestyle by pimps or as the result of abusive or coercive relationships, which can qualify them as trafficking victims.
For one 25-year-old New York woman, three prior convictions for prostitution prevented her from getting a job once she decided to leave her abuser. She spoke on the condition of anonymity because she did not want potential employers to find out about her past.
Court papers show she was coerced into prostitution at age 15 by an older, abusive boyfriend.
After struggling for years to escape a string of abusive pimps, she managed to earn a high school equivalency diploma and graduate from several job training programs, only to be rejected with each fingerprinting background check or application that required her to check the "convicted felon" box.
Under a New York law that was the first of its kind in the nation, the woman's criminal convictions were vacated last month and her record wiped clean, a feeling she said "overwhelmed her with tears of happiness."
Kate Mogulescu, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society who represented the woman, said more than 20 survivors of human trafficking have had their criminal convictions vacated since the New York law was passed in 2010.
Experts believe there are millions of victims of human trafficking around the globe. President Obama said at a forum in 2012 that human trafficking "must be called by its true name: modern slavery."
The administration has said it will provide more training on human trafficking to federal prosecutors, law enforcement officials, immigration judges, and others. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a campaign to raise awareness on the issue domestically and investigate international trafficking networks.