Four Law Schools Launch Collaboration to Support Human Trafficking Survivors

Aug. 13, 2019

Four Law Schools Launch Collaboration to Support Human Trafficking Survivors

TUCSON, Ariz. — Four universities announced today that they will collaborate in the 2019–2020 school year using design thinking methodologies to explore new ways to meet the needs of human trafficking survivors.

Students and faculty from the law schools at the University of Arizona, University of San Diego, Duke University and Harvard University are partnering to explore new legal solutions, conduct in-depth research and develop community resources and possible policy changes to support human trafficking survivors.

Human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit by means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. The second largest criminal industry in the world, human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states in the U.S. Victims of human trafficking include foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, adults and minors, and all genders and identities. This collaboration will engage students from multiple disciplines across the country in understanding the needs of the human trafficking survivors in their communities and applying innovative problem-solving skills to meeting those needs.

The programs and initiatives participating in this project are located in states with high rates of human trafficking. According to statistics provided by the National Trafficking Hotline, in 2017 North Carolina was sixth in the nation for reported cases, Arizona was 10th, and Massachusetts was in the top half. Research conducted in San Diego in 2016 estimated the number of commercially sexually exploited persons in San Diego County ranges from 3,417–8,108 per year, and that law enforcement only arrests 15-20% of the persons committing trafficking offenses.

Each organization participating in this unique, multi-jurisdictional collaboration brings specialized expertise to this project.

  • The Innovation for Justice Program (i4J) at the UA James E. Rogers College of Law launched in 2018 to provide project-based, community-engaged learning opportunities to interdisciplinary teams of graduate and undergraduate students. i4J applies a design- and systems-thinking framework to social justice challenges, and teams of students produce deliverables created with and for the community. In 2018-2019, i4J tackled the issue of eviction, and students created, a bilingual, jurisdiction-agnostic, web-based tool designed to facilitate communication between tenants and landlords.
  • The University of San Diego (USD) has an established track record of achieving systemic change through policy advocacy for nearly 40 years. With respect to human trafficking research and advocacy, USD School of Law faculty utilized research developed by USD's Kroc School of Peace Studies estimating sex trafficking victimization in San Diego to support a series of legislative reforms in California. Specifically, USD's advocacy in this area has led to new laws mandating enhanced training to all levels of the school community; changing the mandatory reporting laws for teachers, nurses, and social workers; and developing programs such as the RISE Court, a special juvenile court created specifically to work with child victims of sex trafficking and address the unique issues they face.
  • Duke Law By Design is an initiative of the Duke Center on Law & Technology which aims to infuse design thinking into law school curriculum. Past courses and workshops led by faculty and staff trained in design thinking facilitation have covered topics such as eviction, beyond the billable hour, access to justice, mass incarceration, forensic reports, and open access to legal information.
  • The Systemic Justice Project ("SJP") at Harvard Law School is a policy innovation collaboration, organized and catalyzed by HLS students devoted to identifying injustice, designing solutions, promoting awareness, and advocating reforms to policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public. While targeting specific policy challenges, SJP is devoted to understanding common and systemic sources of injustice by analyzing the historical, cultural, political, economic and psychological context of particular problems. Toward that end, SJP is committed to collaborating with scholars, lawyers, lawmakers and citizens and to working with existing institutions in promoting attainable, pragmatic and lasting policy solutions.

Jamie Beck, president and managing attorney of Free to Thrive, will join the collaboration as a community partner. Free to Thrive is a San Diego based nonprofit organization that provides legal services and connections to other support to human trafficking survivors.

Students in the USD and UA classes will apply a design- and systems-thinking approach to understanding the challenges that human trafficking survivors experience by engaging with a diverse array of stakeholders this fall. They will work with fellow students via video conference and use collaboration tools such as Google Docs and Slack to share research insights between classrooms. Students at Duke will highlight the needs of human trafficking survivors at a community workshop that builds upon the work of USD and the UA and contributes additional community-based research to the collaboration. In spring 2020, the work accomplished by the students at the UA, USD and Duke in the fall will be shared with Justice Lab students at Harvard Law School's Systemic Justice Project, where students can consider policy-level changes targeting the needs of human trafficking survivors.

"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 the UA'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."

"We are thrilled to partner not only with the other universities but also local community-based coalitions who currently lead efforts against trafficking in North Carolina," said Kelli Raker, program coordinator at the Duke Center on Law & Technology. "Through a design-thinking process where we center survivors of human trafficking, we aim to connect community leaders with an innovative, interdisciplinary group of students in law, social work, public policy and public health."

"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."

In Tucson, i4J will launch the human trafficking challenge with a community-led workshop on Aug. 23. The University of San Diego will build upon the substantial anti-human trafficking  efforts already established in San Diego County, sharing the outcomes of the fall class with both the San Diego community, as well as a campus-wide summit to be held at USD in January of 2020.

Additional resources:

Media contacts:
Tracy Mueller
James E. Rogers College of Law

Stacy Butler
Director, Innovation for Justice

The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top 50 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the UA is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The UA ranked in the top 25 in 2018 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $687 million in annual research expenditures. The UA advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 62 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually.