Hide this site

SAFE Center Hosts Federal and International Experts at Critical Updates Forum

This January, during Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the SAFE Center developed and hosted a high-level, virtual two-panel program featuring leaders from across the U.S. government, international organizations, and the survivor community. These experts delivered insights into recent developments in U.S. anti-trafficking policies and programs, and updates on important international issues in the anti-trafficking field. The University of Maryland Baltimore Graduate School’s Center for Global Engagement partnered with the SAFE Center in planning the program, which was also co-hosted by the Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force and the Montgomery County Human Trafficking Prevention Committee. Two-hundred fifteen people from around the world logged in for the event.

Following opening remarks by UMB President, Dr. Bruce Jarrell, SAFE Center Founder and Director Susan Esserman framed the purpose of the program: to hear from senior federal officials and survivor leaders on the many changes in anti-trafficking and policy programs in 2021, and to assist practitioners and survivors in navigating new or revised programs and policies.

Dr. Kari Johnstone, Senior Official and Principal Deputy Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) delivered the keynote speech. Dr. Johnstone spoke of the many deleterious effects of COVID on the fight against trafficking, including increasing vulnerability to  and incidences of trafficking.  She highlighted important U.S. government efforts in integrating the voices of survivors in anti-trafficking strategies as well as promising models of survivor engagement internationally.  She also outlined the Federal Government’s National Action Plan, which was updated in December 2021 to, among other things, center racial justice and equity in policies and programs, and to give heightened attention to forced labor in supply chains.

In the first panel, moderated by Renée Battle-Brooks, Executive Director of the Prince George’s County Office of Human Rights, U.S. government officials focused on federal agencies’ most recent policy and program updates to address trafficking. Ramon Padilla, Acting Division Chief of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center for Countering Human Trafficking, spoke about the new Center for Countering Human Trafficking, which serves as a services as a hub for human trafficking subject matter experts across 16 DHS components and offices in order to align DHS capabilities and expertise to combat human trafficking and protect victims. Kathryn Chon, Founding Director of the Office on Trafficking in Persons, and Senior Advisor on Human Trafficking at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), gave updates on HHS’ priority goals, including the establishment of a cohesive national human trafficking victims service delivery system. As labor trafficking is an under-identified and under-investigated crime, Karen Stauss, Senior Policy Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, focused especially on DOJ’s plans to increase forced labor prosecutions, starting in select districts. She noted that in the last four months in 2021, US attorney’s offices indicted four separate high-impact forced labor cases, involving a total of 38 defendants. Finally, Hon. Tanya Gould, Anti-Human Trafficking Director for the VA Commonwealth Attorney General’s Office, who currently serves on the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, spoke about the centrality of survivor voices and leadership to the anti-trafficking movement, and the necessity of examining root causes in order to eradicate trafficking.

The International panel, moderated by Susan Esserman, comprised of participants from the U.S. and abroad, focused on efforts to prevent the trafficking of labor migrants and the importance of international and domestic cross-collaboration. Thea Lee, Undersecretary for International Affairs at the Department of Labor, discussed the connection between global labor rights and domestic labor conditions, as well as the importance of addressing forced labor at the source. Philip Hunter, Head of the Labour Migration Unit at the International Organization for Migration, and independent anti-trafficking consultant Ronny Marty both underscored this second point, specifically noting the need to take preventative action by promoting ethical recruitment, while Dr. Charita Castro, Deputy Assistant United States Trade Representative for Labor Affairs, spoke to the benefits of centering worker voices in trade policy and international anti-trafficking initiatives.

At the conclusion of the event, Susan Esserman highlighted the  common themes of the two panels: the importance of working beyond our borders on a global scale, and the value of public and private collaboration. Jodi Finkelstein, Executive Director of the Montgomery County Commission for Women, in reiterating the themes of the panels – collaboration, commitment, and communication – expressed optimism about the future of the fight against human trafficking, noting that the event itself was an example of these priorities in action and of the impact increased coordination can have on awareness and prevention.


To watch a full recording of the event, click here.


UMD SAFE Center Team Statement on Racial Injustice

The UMD SAFE Center decries the structural racism that remains as a toxic legacy of our country’s history and permeates our society today, and we are working to ensure that we are an actively anti-racist institution.