by Jennifer Kimball (MO ’08)
I talk with people about my work at the National Human Trafficking Resource
Center, they frequently ask if it’s depressing to hear about terrible abuses
people inflect on other human beings. For me, the reality is quite different.
While I do see some of the darkest aspects of human nature, I also get to see
the some of the brightest and most inspiring aspects.
met Wendi Adelson (FL ’00) at TSLW in 2008, soon after my selection as a 2008
scholar from Missouri. The following summer, I met Martina Vandenberg (CA ’88) during
Summer Institute at the Truman Scholars Association Conference, and I recently
had the chance to connect with Kristina Filopovich (OR ’96). Adelson,
Vandenberg, and Filopovich’s work focuses on the severe human rights
abuse of human trafficking. We are only beginning to understand this global
problem and its scope and extent in the U.S. As a relatively new scholar, I
have been fortunate to learn from other scholars who have been pioneers, and
whose anti-trafficking work has touched many victims and helped shape the field.
finishing her graduate work at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar,
Vandenberg moved to Moscow, Russia, where she co-founded one of the country’s
first rape crisis centers. Through this work, Vandenberg met an American
attorney and filmmaker, Gillian Caldwell, who was developing a film about the
trafficking of women from the former Soviet Union. “At that time, people were
aware of trafficking in Southeast Asia, but it was a new issue in Russia,” Vandenberg
says. Vandenberg helped Caldwell connect with the feminist activists in Russia
working to combat violence against women, and started learning about human
trafficking. After operating a grant fund for women’s rights NGOs in
Russia and Ukraine for nearly two years, Vandenberg returned to the United
States and attended law school.
in law school, Vandenberg received a human rights internship grant to conduct
research for the Israel Women’s Network, an NGO based in Jerusalem.
Vandenberg spent seven months in Israel, documenting the trafficking of women
to that country for forced prostitution. She eventually published a
report on the issue, including documentation of the trafficking victims’
detention in an Israeli women’s prison. After returning to the United States,
Vandenberg accepted a position in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights
Watch, continuing to work at HRW while completing her law degree. Both
during and after law school, Vandenberg documented violence against women in
the former Soviet Union, as well as rape as a war crime and trafficking in the Balkans.
She enjoyed working while attending law school. “While lots
of folks went to Florida for Spring Break,” Vandenberg remembered, “I went to
Bosnia to interview trafficking victims. It provided some much-needed
five years at Human Rights Watch, Vandenberg was eager to use her law degree
and to learn to litigate. She approached former Truman Foundation
Executive Secretary Louis Blair for advice. Vandenberg eventually landed at
Jenner and Block LLP, a law firm known for its extensive pro bono work.
She seems to do “all pro bono, all the time,” pursuing civil remedies for
trafficking victims in the U.S. federal courts, and helping women trafficked
for forced labor apply for immigration remedies. She and her colleagues
at Jenner advocate for victims, helping them navigate the criminal prosecution
process as witnesses. Many of the cases Vandenberg has worked on over the past few
years involve exploitation by employers who enjoy diplomatic immunity or work
for the World Bank. Vandenberg calls the forced labor cases that she
focuses on the “forgotten side of human trafficking.”
Vandenberg, Filipovich came to anti-trafficking work through previous work on
violence against women. While an undergraduate, she founded a non-profit
working on women’s issues, before pursuing a Watson Fellowship. She
encountered sex trafficking in Vietnam and Thailand while researching women’s
issues internationally. Filipovich’s career path has taken her from working for
President Clinton’s National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women reviewing
results of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to researching gender issues,
including trafficking, overseas through a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to
working on micro-credit issues at Women for Women International, before coming
to Jenner & Block two-and-a-half years ago.
Jenner and Block, Filipovich works with Vandenberg, pursuing civil remedies for
trafficking victims in the United States, and is working on her fourth
trafficking case. “We’re able to do cutting edge litigation work on these
topics,” says Filipovich, noting that many times the government does not
formally prosecute the cases, so the civil law suit may be the only
repercussion the trafficker faces.
first became aware of human trafficking through her interest in international
relations and humanitarian immigration work. After finishing her undergraduate
work, Adelson worked for the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. She then received a
Gates Fellowship to study comparative immigration policy at Cambridge
University. Following training in law, Adelson started working for the Florida
State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights (CAHR) in 2007 after
spending a year as a clinical fellow with the Children & Youth Law Clinic
at the University of Miami School of Law. On her first day there, Adelson
worked on a case for a teenage victim of trafficking. “I see human trafficking
as part of a continuum of human exploitation,” says Adelson. “Training in law
gave me a discrete set of tools to help people,” she said, adding that she gets
to work with and know her clients personally and professionally, and is able to
see the direct impact of her work.
anti-trafficking work centers on immigration remedies for foreign national
victims of trafficking in the United States. Adelson helps trafficking victims
apply for and navigate the T and U visa process, special visas for victims of
trafficking and victims of crime. Adelson also advocates for the people with
whom she works, and helps them navigate the service process. Like Vandenberg
and Filipovich, Adelson’s work doesn’t end with the case work. The CAHR was
asked by the Governor of Florida to help create the state’s strategic plan to
combat human trafficking and serve victims in Florida, and through her work on
this project, Adelson has conducted hundreds of interviews of service
providers. Adelson will be teaching a course on human trafficking this fall and
Filipovich currently works as an adjunct law professor at American University
where her gender and law course includes a focus on human trafficking.
asked what keeps her motivated, Vandenberg answers without hesitation, “My
clients. They are totally inspiring, after all that they have survived.”
concurs, citing the relationships she builds with individual clients as sustaining.
“I feel like I’m part of the solution,” says Adelson. “I work with people at a
turning point, and I can help them reclaim their lives.”
lucky,” says Filipovich. “I’ve always thought I was really lucky to find my
passion [for gender issues/women’s rights] early and know that I can make a
also count myself as extremely lucky. Human trafficking is a terrible crime
against people, and hearing their stories and seeing the abuse they suffered
can be almost immobilizing at times. However, I draw strength from seeing the
resiliency of survivors and from the inspiration of others working in the field
to continue to do what I love: working to end this human rights abuse.
Jennifer Kimball (MO ‘08) is the
regional specialist for the Northeast for the National Human Trafficking