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Supporting Human Trafficking Survivors Through Civil Legal Aid

/ Blog Post

By Allie Yang-Green, senior program manager at Equal Justice Works

Photo of the Fellows in the Crime Victims Justice Corps

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a time to recognize the efforts made by dedicated professionals, volunteers, and communities to prevent trafficking and support those who survived it. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide. All victims of human trafficking deserve to feel safe and supported, and civil legal aid is an essential tool to help them ensure their safety and recover from their victimization.

Between 2018 and 2020, Equal Justice Works mobilized a network of 62 lawyers (Fellows) and 44 law students to deliver civil legal assistance to trafficking survivors and other crime victims through its Crime Victims Justice Corps. Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, Fellows in the program were hosted at 45 legal services organizations across the country, where they provided direct legal services to survivors, enforced crime victims’ rights, and conducted education and outreach activities.

Collectively, Fellows assisted more than 4,000 survivors, including 2,336 trafficking survivors, through legal advice, brief service, and full-scope representation. They filed T-visas for qualified survivors to help obtain legal immigration status and eliminate their vulnerability for further exploitation stemming from their immigration status. Fellows in the Crime Victims Justice Corps also represented survivors in family law matters to gain custody over their children and obtain divorces, and helped survivors assert their rights as victims in criminal cases. For example, 2018 Fellow Phatchara Udomsin, hosted at the Thai Community Development Center, represented several victims in a large scale sex trafficking case. Phatchara and his colleagues helped their clients with T-visa applications, family reunification, victim impact statements, and restitutions.

Additionally, the Fellows increased their host organizations’ and communities’ capacity to serve victims by providing trainings to their colleagues and community partners, including service providers, volunteers, court staff, and law enforcement. As a cohort, they trained more than 19,000 individuals through 960 education activities, and conducted about 1,400 outreach activities including distributing pamphlets at community fairs and holding office hours at medical-legal partnership programs and local shelters.

Following the two-year Fellowship, 41 of the Fellows accepted staff attorney positions at their host organizations, and many continue to work with survivors of human trafficking and other crimes, leveraging the expertise and connections developed during their time in the Crime Victims Justice Corps.

2018 Fellow Angela Martinez-Alvarado accepted a staff attorney position at her host organization Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and continues to work with trafficking survivors. This past fall, Angela was selected to participate in the Human Trafficking Leadership Academy at the U.S. Health and Human Services, Office of Trafficking in Persons, which aims to develop survivor-informed services and create leadership development opportunities to survivor leaders and allied professionals. As the only attorney to join the class of 12, which includes six survivors, Angela collaborates across disciplines and works toward developing recommendations to reduce incidents of labor trafficking.

“I could not have gotten to where I am without the Fellowship,” commented Angela, on her Fellowship experience. “From my previous career, I know it takes years to build a network. But thanks to the Fellowship, I have a wealth of connections—professionals with great knowledge and experience I can call on.”

Thanks to the Fellowship, I have a wealth of connections—professionals with great knowledge and experience I can call on.

Angela Martinez-Alvarado /
2018 Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps

2018 Fellow Precious Odum also continues her work serving trafficking survivors as a staff attorney at Public Law Center in California. Precious’s work now focuses on immigration-related legal issues faced by trafficking survivors, specifically T-visas and removal defense work.

“I still connect with the Fellows from the program and still ask questions, which I’m grateful for,” said Precious, about the professional network she established during Fellowship. “I’m also grateful for the connection with the anti-trafficking world the Fellowship helped establish, which has been an amazing help for me and my clients.

We are proud of what Fellows and law students in our Crime Victims Justice Corps have achieved over the last two years in helping trafficking survivors and other crime victims heal, recover, and rebuild their lives.

To learn more about our newest initiative to mobilize Fellows to advocate for crime victims, visit here to read about the Elder Justice Program, addressing the gap in civil legal services for victims of elder abuse and exploitation.

The Crime Victim Justice Corps was supported by an award from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime, Award Number 2017-MU-MU-K131, and private funding. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow