Helping the Victims of Human Trafficking

September 26, 2012

The following post appears courtesy of Mary Lou Leary, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs

In March of this year President Obama directed his Cabinet to redouble efforts to eliminate human trafficking—or modern-day slavery—which afflicts more than 20 million people around the world, including in communities here at home.  Yesterday, building on the strong record of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and its member agencies, the President announced several initiatives to improve services and legal assistance for victims of human trafficking.

At the Justice Department we coordinate with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to investigate and prosecute human traffickers. We also provide comprehensive assistance to victims. As President Obama announces his important new directives, I am pleased to reflect on the fact that the Office of Justice Program’s (OJP) Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) has funded victim service organizations to support the needs of trafficking victims since 2003.  Those needs may include shelter, sustenance, medical and dental care, mental health treatment, interpretation services, legal and immigration services, literacy education, and more.

Today OVC is announcing two new initiatives and awarding additional trafficking grants that focus on the goal of extending critically needed legal assistance to ensure access to justice for victims of this heinous crime.

The Legal Assistance Capacity Building Initiative will strengthen crime victims’ access to legal help. OVC will work with organizations throughout the country to identify, train, mentor and provide oversight of attorneys who volunteer to provide pro bono legal assistance, including immigration assistance, to crime victims.

With the Wrap-Around Victim Legal Assistance Network Demonstration Projects, OVC has awarded competitive grant funding to six jurisdictions of various sizes to develop collaborative models that can be replicated in communities around the country. Each site will address the wide-range of legal needs that arise for all victims in connection with their victimization, including immigration assistance for human trafficking victims. The sites cover the states of Alaska and Minnesota; city and county of Los Angeles and Long Beach; 72 counties in Texas; Cook County, Illinois; and the city and county of Denver.     

OVC has awarded seven new grants to organizations to provide either "Comprehensive Services" or "Specialized Services" in its Services for Trafficking Victims Grant Program. Under the Comprehensive Service Model, the grantees will give trafficking victims access to a range of services, including shelter, victim advocacy, case management, and medical and mental health care. These Comprehensive Service model grantees in Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon and New Jersey must also lead trafficking victims who are immigrants to legal help applying for T visas and U visas and adjustments to their status. The "Specialized" model grantees provide either legal or mental health services for all victims of both sex and labor trafficking in Colorado and New York.

I am proud of the department’s efforts to support the victims of this terrible crime, which dehumanizes and traumatizes its victims and is often hidden in plain sight in communities across this nation.

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