Kennette Thomas was 15 when she married a man she thought was a gentleman. Instead, he spent the next 30 years as her pimp.

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Paul Beaty/Chicago News Cooperative

Kennette Thomas, 49, was 15 when she married the man who forced her into prostitution.

 In 2009, she finally broke away. Still, she said, the prostitution and the drugs she had used landed her in jail dozens of times, so many that her rap sheet ran 32 pages.  “Prostitution, drugs. That’s my whole life history,” Ms. Thomas, 49, said. “That’s the only life I knew.”

 Thanks in part to the lobbying of Ms. Thomas and others, Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month signed the Illinois Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act. The law enables victims of sex trafficking — people recruited or coerced into sexual exploitation — to clear their records of prostitution convictions.

Under the law, the person must petition for a hearing in the court where the prostitution convictions were handed down, produce evidence that she or he was a victim of sex trafficking and ask the judge to vacate the convictions.

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