Top-flight Law School collaboration in outreach to human trafficking survivors

SOURCE: structuresxx/Shutterstock

By Emma Richards 

Read all stories

Four universities are coming together with community stakeholders to turn the spotlight on human trafficking in the United States and reach out to victims, ensuring they have legal representation and to better understand how to help the survivors of this troubling crime.

Students and faculty from the law schools at the University of Arizona, University of San Diego, Duke University and Harvard University are a part of the project that hopes to gain in-depth knowledge of the and assess the most appropriate community resources needed to stop human trafficking in the United States.

According to a statement from the schools, human trafficking is the second biggest criminal industry in the world and has been reported in all 50 US states, with victims spanning all ages, genders and identities.


Rather than focus purely on Law students, the project will involve students across a broad range of subject areas and geographies, helping them to understand the needs of survivors and applying innovative problem-solving skills to meeting those needs.

“We selected this challenge because human trafficking is a deeply inhumane problem that reaches across so many different systems in our society,” said Stacy Butler, director of Arizona’s Innovation for Justice Program.

“While much is being done to prevent human trafficking, as long as it exists, we have survivors trying to navigate numerous barriers: overcome trauma, obtain housing and employment, locate and receive medical care and education, and navigate criminal and civil legal issues. We have an opportunity to engage a team of talented graduate students and four excellent institutions in thinking creatively about how those barriers could be alleviated.”

Each of the universities participating in the programme is located in a state with high rates of human trafficking. According to the National Trafficking Hotline, Massachusetts, home of Harvard, is in the top half of the country for reported cases, Arizona is tenth, and North Carolina is sixth in the nation for human trafficking cases.


Research conducted in San Diego in 2016 estimated the number of commercially sexually exploited persons in San Diego County ranges from close to 3,500 to over 8,000 per year. Law enforcement only arrests 15–20 percent of the persons committing trafficking offences.

“The Center for Public Interest Law and the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law use dynamic clinical experiences to engage students in using the law to create social change,” said Jessica Heldman, professor in residence in child rights at the USD School of Law.

“The human trafficking challenge provides these students a meaningful opportunity to develop a deep understanding of and empathy for those who have experienced human trafficking and those who work to meet the needs of victims and survivors.

“We are pleased to join with academic and community partners in taking on the challenge of turning understanding and empathy into action, positively impacting individuals within our communities.”