Collaborating Across the Nation, Fellows Team Up to Protect the Civil Legal Needs of the Underserved

By Hana Hausnerova, director at Equal Justice Works

Across the country, millions of low-income Americans struggle with civil legal problems like accessing safe and stable housing conditions, healthcare, disability benefits, and veterans’ benefits; or seeking protection from domestic violence or economic exploitation. Even more unfortunate: 86% of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help whatsoever due to a lack of resources to serve them.

To help bridge this justice gap, Equal Justice Works designed issue-specific Fellowship programs that bring together a team of lawyers and non-lawyers like community advocates and law students at the local, state, or national level to respond to a legal issue at scale and in a coordinated manner. Through this Fellowship program model, Fellows have the opportunity to work collaboratively and share resources with one another, enabling them to be more effective advocates. Since the inception of this program model, thousands of Fellows, Community Organizers, and Student Fellows have collaborated to make meaningful and measurable collective impact by addressing a range of critical legal aid issues, including eviction and foreclosure prevention, expungement, disaster preparedness and relief, immigration, elder abuse, human trafficking, indigent defense, and veterans’ assistance.

Photo of Daryl F. Hayott

“Being part of a Fellowship Program is essential to tackling high pressure, high value civil legal problems, like the eviction crisis in Virginia,” said Daryl F. Hayott, a 2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Housing Justice Program. “As part of the Fellowship program, we can split up responsibilities while working in a coordinated fashion and making best use of each Fellows’ skill set while also being able to cover more area and help more clients.”

Being part of a Fellowship Program is essential to tackling high pressure, high value civil legal problems, like the eviction crisis in Virginia.

Daryl F. Hayott /
2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Housing Justice Program

As the nation’s largest provider of post-graduate public interest Fellowship opportunities, Equal Justice Works has a long, successful track record running Fellowship programs—since 1993, we have implemented more than 25 federally and privately-funded Fellowship Programs, with a total value of over $50 million. In the last five years alone, Equal Justice Works has administered 12 federally and privately-funded Fellowship Programs.

Through the Fellowship program model, Fellows focus on a specific issue area, helping to break down barriers to justice for individuals and families by:

  • Providing direct legal services
  • Creating referral networks
  • Conducting outreach and education events for low-income individuals and training other attorneys and allied professionals
  • Cultivating civic and political will
  • Increasing service capacity of host legal services organizations through developing community partnerships and best practice tools and resources
  • Strengthening collaboration among host legal services organizations

Equal Justice Works supports Fellows by providing customized training and technical assistance to build legal skills, encourage collaboration, and leverage a community of practice to achieve collective impact. Beyond providing direct legal services to target communities, our Fellowship program model makes it possible to build capacity for the legal aid community by seeding the field with trained attorneys who will develop and bring best practices and tools for more effective service delivery to their organizations and community partnerships, even after their Fellowship ends.

For example, through our Department of Justice-funded program, the Crime Victims Justice Corps, between 2018 to 2020, 62 Fellows and 44 law students assisted more than 4,000 crime victims, including 2,336 human trafficking survivors. Following the two-year Fellowship, 65% of the Fellows were hired by their host organizations and continue to leverage their network and connections developed during the program.

Photo of Stephanie Martinez
Photo of Stephanie Martinez

“The Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program gave me an opportunity to focus my immigration law practice on working with survivors of trafficking,” said Stephanie Martinez, a 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps. “I was able to gain crucial training and experience to best represent my clients, and after my Fellowship, I was able to secure a grant to continue to work with immigrant survivors of trafficking. I am now a supervising attorney at my organization and continue to focus on anti-trafficking.”

The Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program gave me an opportunity to focus my immigration law practice on working with survivors of trafficking.

Stephanie Martinez /
2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Crime Victims Justice Corps

Equal Justice Works also runs privately-funded programs on disaster recovery and preparedness. In the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017, we established the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps, mobilizing 23 attorneys to provide free civil legal services to low-income and marginalized communities affected by these disasters in Texas and Florida. From 2018 to 2020, Fellows in the program provided legal information and services to more than 30,000 individuals and secured nearly $3 million in economic benefits for clients, through fines and fee waivers, FEMA assistance, and housing related matters such as title disputes and rent. Additionally, 90% of the Fellows’ supervisors reported that their legal services organization had increased capacity to serve disaster survivors in their community as a result of the program.

Photo of Brittany Perrigue Gomez
Photo of Brittany Perrigue Gomez

“The Equal Justice Works Disaster Recovery Legal Corps has provided Fellows who represent those impacted by disasters the ability to expand disaster legal knowledge and give new breadth to being a disaster focused attorney as a career path,” said Brittanny Perrigue Gomez, 2018 Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid disaster benefits team manager.

“Being part of an Equal Justice Works Corps has allowed me to find others who are as passionate about the disaster legal issues that impact families across Texas and provide me support and friendships that will last far beyond my Fellowship. As a corps we are far more effective than working alone.” Brittanny Perrigue Gomez, 2017 Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps.

Being part of an Equal Justice Works Corps has allowed me to find others who are as passionate about the disaster legal issues that impact families across Texas.

Brittanny Perrigue Gomez /
2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Disaster Recovery Legal Corps

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Fellows in our programs already had an established virtual network and continued collaborating virtually, through listservs and pre-scheduled monthly Fellow meetings. This collaboration allowed Fellows to quickly identify best practices and refine service and outreach delivery to meet the new needs of their communities in a hybrid virtual and in-person way. Fellows also had a preexisting support network of their peers and Equal Justice Works staff and alumni. Our Fellowship Programs create lifelong networks for our Fellows and develops passionate, well-trained, and connected public service leaders ready to make change happen.

Equal Justice Works set me up for success as a public interest attorney.

Dianna Torres /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
New Mexico Immigration Corps

Diana Torres Headshot
Photo of Diana Torres

“Equal Justice Works set me up for success as a public interest attorney,” said 2020 Fellow Diana Torres in the New Mexico Immigration Corps. “[Equal Justice Works gave me] the opportunity to pursue my interest in immigration law and provided me many opportunities for professional development by organizing yearly conferences where I could learn from my peers and from seasoned public interest attorneys who gave me a glimpse into what my career could look like long term.”

We continue to explore ways to expand our Fellowships programs, and are seeking partners to help us do so. If you’d like to learn more about partnering with Equal Justice Works, please reach out to us at [email protected]

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.

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

Each year, millions of older Americans experience some form of abuse, neglect, and/or financial exploitation. Studies show that elder abuse—which includes psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as caregiver neglect, financial fraud and exploitation—affects about 1 out of every 10 people age 60 and older.

Elder abuse often occurs at the hands of the people entrusted with the care and protection of the older person, such as nursing staff or family members. It can appear in many settings, including the older adult’s home, a family member’s home, a long-term care facility, or in other healthcare settings.

In many cases, older Americans do not seek help because they fear blame or other negative outcomes involving their family members, or because they are unaware of their rights and potential legal remedies. They need experienced advocates who can advise and seek justice on their behalf. Yet there is a profound shortage of public interest lawyers nationwide who are trained to provide effective representation to older victims.

That’s why Equal Justice Works created the Elder Justice Program—a two-year legal Fellowship program aimed at improving the national response to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The Elder Justice Program mobilizes 22 lawyers to increase access to justice for victims of elder abuse, by enforcing elder abuse victims’ rights and addressing wide-ranging civil legal issues, such as housing, protection orders, guardianship, and public benefits. Many of the Fellows in the program will serve victims in rural communities, as they face a greater challenge in accessing legal assistance due to their geographic isolation and limited transportation options.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fellows will use creative workarounds and innovative approaches to conduct outreach and meet the legal needs of their clients, while safeguarding the health and safety of both their clients and themselves. The Fellow hosted at Three Rivers Legal Services in Florida will develop direct representation models that allow for limited face-to-face contact, relying on both technology and assistance from providers or trusted family members with consent. At another host organization, New York Legal Assistance Group, the Fellow will work with partner agencies to include legal service outreach materials in food deliveries to older adults.

Throughout the Fellowship, Equal Justice Works and its program partner, Justice in Aging, will provide extensive training and technical assistance to help the Fellows deliver a multidisciplinary, coordinated response for helping older victims of abuse. Fellows are expected to begin their service in July 2020 at 16 legal services organizations across the country.

Interested in applying for this Fellowship program? Visit here to learn about the Elder Justice Program and to see the list of host organizations that are currently accepting applications.

The Elder Justice Program is supported by an award from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Award Number 2019-V3-GX-K033. This federal funding is supplemented by funds from private donors.

By Mary Armistead, 2018 Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps, hosted at the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project

Photo of Mary Armistead

Mobs and sexual violence—these are usually people’s first thoughts when they hear “human trafficking.” However, trafficking—an often under-detected and misunderstood crime—is much more complex than the media-driven narrative.

Through my work as a Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow (CVJC) in New York State, I have seen many misconceptions about human trafficking. In my clients’ experiences, human trafficking is often perpetrated by individuals or small groups of people, often related to each other, using coercion, not physical force, to lure the victim into a trafficking situation. According to the IOM’s 2017 Human Trafficking Global Database, worldwide nearly 80% of trafficking is forced labor trafficking, not sexual in nature.

Working as a Fellow in the CVJC has allowed me to understand a population that is often overlooked, and to combat stereotypes surrounding victims. Each survivor is different—they all have their own story about human trafficking. It’s especially important to recognize that trauma can affect each person in different ways, and thus manifest in different ways.

A trauma-informed approach recognizes the multi-faceted way trauma can impact a client. Their trauma may affect the way they see the world, whether they can trust those claiming to help them, if they can remember the details of what happened to them, and so much more. It’s important to use a trauma-informed approach because it ensures that the client feels understood, empowered, and comfortable with you.

For example, a trauma-informed approach is essential when trying to collect evidence. Trauma affects the way the brain works, especially in how it codes memories. Unfortunately, the process of extracting this information can be re-traumatizing. Expecting a client to come into an unfamiliar office environment and tell you a chronological story in an hour that encapsulates their traumatic experience is unrealistic. A trauma-informed approach would involve creating a welcoming and warm space for meetings, planning to have multiple meetings to hear a client’s story, addressing issues at the forefront of the client’s mind, and more. When you put in the effort, your clients are more likely to open up and share their stories.

Misconceptions about human trafficking leave people vulnerable to being solicited by traffickers, and cause victims of trafficking to remain hidden. Understanding the reality of human trafficking helps us all become better advocates for victims of trafficking.

*These misconceptions are based on Mary’s experience working as a public interest lawyer and are not based on any official reports/data.

To learn more about Mary’s project and the work of our Crime Victims Justice Corps, click here.

CVJC is 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.

It’s important to use a trauma-informed approach because it ensures that the client feels understood, empowered, and comfortable with you.

Mary Armistead /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

By Lizett Rodriguez Peña, 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps

Photo of Lizett Rodriguez Peña

I joined the Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps because it was a chance to advocate for disenfranchised and marginalized rural workers in the community where I grew up, Watsonville, California.

My client’s stories reflect my own life story. I am a first-generation immigrant who witnessed labor trafficking in the United States at a young age.

I grew up in migrant camps about two hours from San Francisco. My experience in these camps opened my eyes to the discrimination, harassment, violence, and wage theft that rural workers face on an ongoing basis. In witnessing these atrocities, I became motivated to seek out justice on behalf of the most exploited communities of our society.

As a Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps, I am one of 60 lawyers across our country focused on delivering civil legal assistance to victims of crime. At my host organization, California Rural Legal Assistance, I work alongside my colleagues to:

  • assist victims of human trafficking and hate crimes in obtaining immigration relief
  • represent immigrant victims of employment-related crimes at administrative and civil proceedings
  • advocate for LGBTQ and indigenous immigrant victims in rural and agricultural areas of California

My clients’ stories illustrate how important this work is and empower me to continue fighting for justice every day. One of these clients came to my office pleading for help.

When I interviewed this client, he broke down crying, telling me he had been working without pay for weeks. His employer would physically abuse him—the violence escalated to the point where his employer pointed a gun at him.

My client tolerated the humiliation, the harassment, and the violence perpetrated by the employer because he needed to support his family. He is a migrant worker and was afraid to come forward due to fear of retaliation. Language barriers also prevented him from learning about their rights under U.S. law. He knew the situation was wrong, but didn’t quite understand that he had become a victim of labor trafficking.

I informed my client about his rights, and together we contacted local law enforcement that same day to look into the situation. He is now safe from his employer but is seeking therapy because of the physical and emotional distress caused by his victimization.

Access to legal services in rural areas of California is very limited, and many individuals in these parts of the state are unaware of their rights. Currently, California Rural Legal Assistance is the one of the few nonprofit organizations in the area that provides free representation for temporary immigration relief. Many farmworkers who enter the country with an H2A visa—a visa for temporary agricultural work—often find themselves being labor trafficked by their employers, but due to language barriers, cultural differences, and financial needs, these crimes go widely unreported. Eventually, these abuses become normalized as a result of daily occurrence.

It is so important to have public interest lawyers like the Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellows, who can advocate on behalf of victims and provide culturally competent and trauma-informed legal services.

I feel honored to be part of a nationwide network of dedicated lawyers who are passionate about this work and who I can learn from and lean on when it gets challenging. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity to pursue my passion for service and to bring justice to communities most in need.

To learn more about Lizett’s project and the work of our Crime Victims Justice Corps, click here.

CVJC is 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.

My client’s stories reflect my own life story. I am a first-generation immigrant who witnessed labor trafficking in the United States at a young age.

Lizett Rodriguez Peña /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

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

As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly changes the legal services landscape, attorneys, courts, and administrative agencies are searching for ways to continue providing key services while balancing public health concerns and the rights of those involved. Many Equal Justice Works Fellows, including over sixty in the Crime Victim Justice Corps, serve survivors of human trafficking and other crimes. They are on the frontlines of protecting survivors’ rights and safety in this challenging time.

Although pandemic-related restrictions have forced Fellows to postpone or digitally host many education and outreach events, their commitment to represent survivors does not cease. Fellows are working harder than ever to meet the needs of their clients under remote work arrangements and finding ways to overcome new legal challenges. The National Crime Victim Law Institute, an Equal Justice Works program partner, is currently supporting Fellows with technical assistance that is responsive to the current needs, and sharing resources and updates on victims’ rights issues.

Photo of Jean Ahn

In place of in-person meetings, Fellows are using survivor-centered strategies to provide legal representation virtually. Fellow Jean Ahn at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles allows more time for client meetings by phone, especially when using an interpreter. Doing so allows her clients to fully share their stories and discuss their next steps even when working through an interpreter.

Photo of Noelle Lemon
Photo of Noelle Lemon

Fellow Noelle Lemon, at HIAS Pennsylvania, is sharing information with community partners and working hard to maintain communication with her clients. One of her clients has an upcoming interview at a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office that is scheduled the day the office is slated to re-open. Noelle has been advising her client over the phone to ensure that they are ready for the interview. She is carefully navigating the uncertainty of the government agency’s shifting schedules and its operational capacity so that she can be the trusted counselor to the immigrant trafficking survivor she is helping.

Photo of Marissa Mowery
Photo of Marissa Mowery

While some Fellows are navigating maintaining communication with their clients, other Fellows are working outside the box to tackle logistical issues amid social distancing measures. Fellow Marissa Mowery, hosted by the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, is crafting a due process argument so that the federal administrative agency will accept her client’s digital signature, instead of a wet signature, ensuring that the client does not have to risk their safety to deliver the physical document.

Madeleine Anderson
Photo of Madeleine Anderson

Not all challenges have ready-made solutions. Fellow Madeleine Anderson hosted at Connecticut Legal Services, recently helped her client obtain an emergency protective order, but the court’s reduced operation schedule currently limits clients’ ability to have hearings on other non-emergency matters. Yet even in these circumstances, Madeleine and other Fellows continue to counsel their clients, inform them of their rights, and take significant steps to preserve their claims—all critical elements in survivor-centered legal service.

Beyond continuing their current work with survivors, our Fellows are playing a crucial role in addressing emerging issues in victims’ rights during this public health crisis. As courts across the country adopt new rules and procedures to cope with the impact of COVID-19, Fellows are ensuring that survivor’s rights are not overlooked. They are providing survivors the opportunity to seek privacy protection, participate in proceedings remotely, and access relevant information, including the release of their offenders to protect their safety.

While no community is spared of the devastation of COVID-19, Fellows in the Crime Victim Justice Corps are an integral part of the national efforts to maintain access to justice for underserved communities in these uncertain times.

To learn more about the work of our Crime Victims Justice Corps, click here.

Crime Victims Justice Corps is 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.

Fellows are working harder than ever to meet the needs of their clients under remote work arrangements and finding ways to overcome new legal challenges.

Allie Yang-Green /
Senior Program Manager
Equal Justice Works

Mary Armistead is a 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps. She is hosted by the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project.

Photo of Mary Armistead
Photo of Mary Armistead

What motivated you to apply for the Crime Victims Justice Corps?

The combination of Equal Justice Works and the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project was too good to pass up! I became familiar with both of these organizations during my time in law school. Through internships, I worked with the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project extensively. They were known for helping marginalized communities and for being an excellent workplace. I learned about Equal Justice Works through the Conference and Career Fair and was inspired by the various Fellowship programs. Four years after I graduated law school, I saw a Fellowship opportunity through the Crime Victims Justice Corps (CVJC) and knew I had to apply. Working as a Fellow has allowed me to work with individuals who others may have overlooked, and to educate those in positions to help these individuals.

Tell us a bit about your Fellowship at the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project. What types of services do you provide to victims of human trafficking?

Before working at the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project, I primarily focused on immigration and family law representation. Now, I use my expertise to represent survivors of human trafficking before various immigration agencies (ICE, USCIS, and EOIR) and help survivors with family law matters, such as seeking orders of protection, custody, or divorce. Often, I practice in other legal areas and collaborate with experts in these fields to ensure that my clients are receiving the best possible representation. Through my time as a Fellow, I have been able to receive training and technical assistance from the National Crime Victim Law Institute and its partners to continually build my legal repertoire. Additionally, I leverage partnerships with other agencies, the government, and nonprofits to create holistic solutions for my clients.

As a Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps, you are part of a nationwide network of lawyers working to expand legal services for survivors of human trafficking and other crimes. What are some of the benefits of being part of this cohort and how do you collaborate with other Fellows in this program?

This national cohort has provided me with the opportunity to have instant connections in various geographical areas throughout the country. These connections are essential to helping me best serve survivors who may have moved from one location to another as part of their trafficking. It also provides a built-in brainstorming network full of individuals dealing with similar issues in their work. On a personal level, when we have the opportunity to gather together for conferences, like the Leadership and Development Training, it provides a space where other lawyers can understand the emotional toll this work has. We can share ideas on how to best take care of ourselves while also serving others.

Lastly, what are your plans following this Fellowship? Are you going to continue working with victims of human trafficking?

I certainly plan to continue using the knowledge, experience, and networks to serve victims of human trafficking. For example, I hope to continue participating on panels and giving presentations regarding human trafficking. Additionally, I intend to continue serving as the co-chair for the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Sex Trafficking Committee (which I hope to rename the Human Trafficking Committee to recognize the extent to which labor trafficking as well). I would also love to continue serving the immigrant community because they are uniquely susceptible to trafficking exploitation. My hope is to continue working at Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project, which has been an environment where I can both be supported and have the independence to grow.

To learn more about Mary’s project and the work of our Crime Victims Justice Corps, click here.

CVJC is 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.

This national cohort has provided me with the opportunity to have instant connections in various geographical areas throughout the country.

Mary Armistead /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

Verjine Adanalian and Courtney Kinter are Equal Justice Works Fellows in the Crime Victims Justice Corps. Verjine is hosted by the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, and Courtney is hosted by the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati.

Verjine Adanalian and Courtney Kinter

Despite its comparatively small population, Ohio ranked fourth in the nation—only behind California, Texas, and Florida—for human trafficking cases in 2017. At the same time, the state’s opioid crisis has escalated dramatically, leaving Ohio with the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths by opioids in the country. Put simply, Ohio has a critical need for legal aid.

While a number of organizations in Ohio provide comprehensive case management and other services for human trafficking survivors, legal aid is often limited.  Most clients have multiple legal needs that can intersect with their human trafficking victimization, such as family law, immigration, housing, and employment. Sometimes, it’s hard to see where one legal issue ends and the next begins.

Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow Verjine Adanalian, hosted by the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, provides education for the community and works with the organization’s Second Chance Program, an opportunity for survivors to expunge criminal records that occurred as a result of trafficking.

Criminal records, which are not uncommon for trafficking victims, can prevent survivors from truly moving forward. Housing applications, employment opportunities, and school inquiries are all instances in which criminal records might arise, which can re-traumatize survivors—it’s as if they will never be free from their traffickers. Verjine gives these survivors a second chance to move forward.

Knowing they can apply to a job and no one is ever going to be able to see [their record] again—that’s true freedom.

Verjine Adanalian /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

Courtney Kinter, another Fellow in the Crime Victims Justice Corps who is hosted by Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, works on family and immigration legal issues that arise as a result of trafficking victimization.

I’ve never had a client come in with just one legal issue.

Courtney Kinter /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

For example, many trafficking victims know the physical location of their child, but do not know what the court has said about their visitation rights or child support. Another example is foreign-national clients who have had their traffickers take away their documentation, like a passport. Courtney works with embassies and consulates to help them regain their identification documents.

Verjine and Courtney, who work at different host organizations within the same building, have collaborated regularly to create holistic legal solutions to barriers human trafficking victims face. A client came to Verjine needing help getting her record expunged. After she received her expungement, she became a strong advocate for the survivor community—even speaking to legislators at a state level. She worked extremely hard to regain her life back but being married to her husband, the man that trafficked her, was holding her back and she didn’t know where to start to get a divorce. Verjine was able to refer her to Courtney, who assisted her in getting a divorce. Thanks to their work, the client no longer has to be reminded of her victimization when she signs her own name.

Addressing the needs of trafficking survivors can be complex, but the Fellows in the Crime Victim Justice Corps are working hard to provide holistic, trauma-informed legal services. To learn more about this program, click here.

CVJC is 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.

Across our country, victims of crime face significant challenges in accessing comprehensive, trauma-informed legal services. In the summer of 2018, Equal Justice Works launched the Crime Victims Justice Corps, a Fellowship program aimed at helping victims of crime receive civil legal assistance for myriad issues relating to their victimization.

Over the past six months*, the Crime Victims Justice Corps—62 Fellows and 23 law students, serving at 46 legal services organizations nationwide—has been working tirelessly to expand legal services for survivors of human trafficking and other crimes, such as campus sexual assault, hate crimes, fraud, identity theft, and immigrant victims of crime.

Collectively, Fellows have assisted over 1,700 survivors on a broad range of legal services and have facilitated nearly 300 education/training activities to roughly 6,000 individuals.

In one example of community outreach, Fellow Mary Armistead at the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project learned that local law enforcement had busted a “prostitution ring,” but did not screen the alleged prostitutes for human trafficking, opting instead to arrest them. In response, Mary collaborated with partner organizations to create a training for judges, attorneys, law enforcement, and service providers to identify victims of human trafficking.

Along with legal assistance and trainings, Fellows have conducted over 400 outreach activities, distributing over 10,000 outreach materials—including those developed by Fellows—to potential clients, community partners, and other stakeholders.

At the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, Fellow Verjine Adanalian created a “client reminder brochure,” after noticing that many of her clients would forget significant details of their discussions. Upon learning that trauma dramatically impacts the brain, including how memories are coded, Verjine developed a set of tools to remind clients of next steps, allowing survivors to feel more confident and secure about the legal process.

The needs of crime victims are profound and require long-term multi-disciplinary responses. More than halfway through the two-year Fellowship period, Fellows and law students in the Crime Victims Justice Corps have achieved remarkable results in providing victims of crime with the legal services they need to heal and rebuild their lives. Learn more about the Fellows who are working to ensure that victims of crime have a voice in our justice system.

CVJC is 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.

*January 1 – June 30, 2019 reporting period.

Heba Estafanous is a 2018 Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow, hosted by the Network for Victim Recovery of DC

Photo of Heba Estafanous
Photo of Heba Estafanous

In 2018, 33,890 crimes were reported in Washington, D.C. This number is significant, when you consider the impact beyond the victims—crime has a ripple effect it touches not just the victim but their family, friends, neighborhood, and community.

In a recent presentation to Equal Justice Works staff, Heba spoke about the importance of her work as a crime victims’ rights attorney. Heba explained that the prosecutor represents the government, and while the prosecutor wants to obtain justice on behalf of the crime victim, they are ultimately beholden to the interests of their boss—the government. A victim’s attorney, on the other hand, represents the crime victim’s interests.

The District of Columbia grants victims the right to seek restitution, which requires the defendant to compensate the victim for damages that result directly from the crime. For example, during an assault on one of Heba’s clients, the defendant stole the client’s iPhone, and Heba helped the client receive restitution in order to purchase a replacement iPhone. Often times, victims do not know that they have a right to request restitution. Although prosecutors are required under applicable laws to advise victims of their right to seek restitution, there may be instances in which the government does not desire to include restitution in the plea agreement. In those situations, the victim’s attorneys, like Heba, play a critical role seeking restitution on behalf of their client.

Crime victims’ rights attorneys also ensure that their clients can exercise their right to be heard. This right requires judges to consider a victim’s perspective during various court proceedings, including at the sentencing. One example Heba shared involved a client whose daughter was the victim of homicide, and the client was very disappointed by the plea agreement reached between the government and the defendant. To ensure her voice was heard by the court, Heba helped the client draft and deliver a powerful victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing, to convey to the court the impact of the crime on her daughter and her family. The mother’s statement moved the judge and affected the defendant’s sentencing. Without a victims’ rights attorney, the mother might have never been able to have her voice heard by the court.

“Survivors have a voice, but sometimes they need someone to amplify that voice. That is where I think my role is,” says Heba.

CVJC is 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.

To learn more about Heba and her project, visit her profile.

Survivors have a voice, but sometimes they need someone to amplify that voice. That is where I think my role is.

Heba Estafanous /
Equal Justice Works Fellow