In April, in collaboration with the American Bar Association (ABA) and Polaris Project, Pro Bono Net unveiled the new Human Trafficking Legal Access Center. This exciting new initiative connects pro bono lawyers with non-profits who serve human trafficking survivors.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. While the number of trafficking survivors in the US is largely unknown, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of US citizen minors are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation. 12.5% of endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2012 were likely child sex trafficking victims and 68% of global human trafficking victims are victims of forced labor.
Human trafficking survivors have a tremendous need for legal services, yet the complexity of their cases often prohibits pro bono attorneys from becoming involved. “There is still a lot of knowledge that needs to be gained about what human trafficking looks like,” explained Audrey Roofeh, Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator at Polaris Project. “The experience for human trafficking survivors might not be something a pro bono attorney is familiar with from other cases.” One survivor may have immigration needs, a criminal conviction, family law concerns, and more – easily too much for one attorney to handle. The new site eases these barriers and involves more pro bono lawyers in the human trafficking field.
The site stemmed from past ABA president Laurel Bellows’ keen interest in helping human trafficking survivors with their legal needs. As Bellows entered the final year of her presidency, the ABA sat down and looked at key collaborating organizations in the human trafficking field. They discovered that local organizations across the country were identifying the plethora of legal needs that survivors encountered but were often unable to provide legal assistance. “We saw that having access to a lawyer would be essential to survivors,” explained Vivian Huelgo, Chief Counsel on the ABA’s Task Force on Human Trafficking.
The primary purpose of the site is to serve as a matchmaker between lawyers looking to donate their time and service organizations looking for lawyers to help survivors. Both Roofeh and Huelgo also expressed additional goals for the site beyond the central matching services. “We want to promote the good practices of some of the great organizations that are doing this work,” explained Roofeh. Local organizations have made great strides in determining the best practices for helping survivors overcome a variety of obstacles and Roofeh hopes that these practices will now be shared with the greater community.
The site also highlights the need for more human trafficking service providers. In their research prior to developing the site, the ABA discovered both a lack of providers and available funding. The lack of experienced and dedicated attorneys prohibits more pro bono attorneys from volunteering in the field, as there is no one to mentor and train them on the complexity of human trafficking cases. The site is working to increase the supply of training and support, allowing more attorneys to get involved. A calendar feature on the site help people discover trainings held by partner organizations and the site will also connect people remotely to experts.
The site has excited the anti-human trafficking community due to its potential to increase awareness about this pressing issue and ability to help more survivors gain access to the resources they need.