PROGRAMS & INITIATIVES
Guardian ad litem
AO provides a trained, human trafficking competent, guardian ad litem to assist and advocate for the best interest of trafficked and exploited minors throughout the process of prosecuting their trafficker or exploiter and any other legal proceedings in which they are involved. Guardians ad litem also recommend and marshall appropriate services and resources, such as trauma focused therapy, therapeutic foster placement, and education coaches, on behalf of minor clients to assist them in their recovery
Direct Legal Assistance and Advocacy
Working with our staff attorney and with one of our community legal service partners, as appropriate, clients are provided direct, comprehensive legal services. Some of the legal services provided include acting as a client’s personal representative in legal proceedings which prosecute their trafficker or exploiter, filing protection orders, filing for expungement, benefit applications, enforcing human and civil rights, immigration assistance, criminal defense, family law, employment assistance, housing, civil legal representation, and any other legal services which clients may require.
Attorneys assist trafficked and exploited persons working with state and federal prosecutors to request appropriate and full restitution as part of their trafficker’s sentence or criminal sanction.
Attorneys assist clients in reporting crimes to law enforcement which were committed against them while they were involved in human trafficking, exploitation, or sex work without fear of arrest.
Advocates work to protect clients privacy and identity through legal motions preventing their exposure to the media and the public in court documents, court proceedings, public records, and media reports.
Advocates provide legal assistance to survivors who wish to publicly share their experiences to ensure that their story is told accurately and appropriately, protecting them from further exploitation.
Advocates provide members of the media with a guide to assist them in preparing for interviews with clients or to report on court proceedings to ensure sensitivity and accuracy. The guide addresses issues such as potential uses of public information, privacy concerns, safety, and other issues associated with media contact for clients who have been trafficked or exploited. Clients are offered legal assistance when working with media outlets or participating in interviews, including assistance negotiating releases, contracts, confidentiality agreements, and control over their public image.
Advocates are compiling a resource guide for clients to connect them with compassionate, unbiased, neutral, and culturally sensitive service providers to assist them in multiple areas including education, mental health, medical providers, housing and shelter, social services, harm reduction, legal assistance, and community organizations both in Northwest Ohio and in common destination cities. We are working with our partners statewide to duplicate and tailor resource guides for cities throughout Ohio.
Registry and Document Safekeeping
Clients are offered a secure place to keep certified copies of personal documents such as identification, birth certificates, wills and living wills, emergency contact information, and medical information and history. Clients may also create a personal registry which may contain a photograph of each client’s choosing, identifying marks or tattoos, and any other personal information which clients choose to have secured.
2015-2017: Legal Assistance Framework for Trafficked and Exploited Persons
Advocating Opportunity (AO) is pleased to announce the launch of our 2015 Project, a Legal Assistance Framework for Trafficked and Exploited Persons, made possible by the generous support of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.
Our goal is to develop a legal assistance framework, provide training on that framework, and draft a best practices manual for working with trafficked and exploited persons. Using the federal government’s strategic plan to address trafficking, the Legal Assistance Framework will outline when trafficked and exploited persons should consult with an attorney, when an attorney is required for trafficked and exploited persons, when and how attorneys can assist trafficked and exploited persons, what rights they have under Ohio and federal law, and any other matters relevant to the framework. The Legal Assistance Framework will incorporate the 4Ps as outlined by the federal government – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnerships.
In addition to creating a Legal Assistance Framework, the project will support the development of best practices for lawyers in meeting client’s needs. AO will provide training to legal professionals, courts, law enforcement, and other professionals who work with trafficked and exploited persons, as well as training regarding their rights under Ohio and federal law, and when to contact an attorney.
Our final goals, leading into 2016, are to draft an in-depth analysis of the Legal Assistance Framework and to adapt the Legal Assistance Framework for national application and to add frameworks specific to other states, addressing multi-jurisdictional issues and approaches. AO’s focus is on increasing collaboration among legal professionals, law enforcement, related para-professionals, advocates, and human trafficking survivors to prevent criminalization oftrafficked and exploited persons.
We are pleased to have the generous support of the Ohio State Bar Foundation and of our national and state partners, the Center for Court Innovation, the Office of Criminal Justice Services, the Ohio Public Defenders Office, the Justice League of Ohio, and Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO).
2014: National Expungement and Vacatur Database
In 2014, Advocating Opportunity spearheaded the creation of a central, national, database for practitioners working in state courts, which addresses cases and legislation on vacatur and expungement of criminal records for trafficked and exploited persons. The nature of human trafficking and exploitation often results in criminal convictions, in multiple states, which makes it difficult and time consuming for practitioners to efficiently serve clients who are seeking vacatur or expungement. Advocating Opportunity, Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, The Legal Aid Society, Exploitation Intervention Project, The Women’s Law Center of Maryland, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), the Urban Justice Center, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, launched the database On February 9, 2015 with focused and relevant information which will greatly assist practitioners working to vacate or expunge criminal convictions for clients who have been trafficked or exploited.
This database, hosted by the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, provides a central resource for attorneys and advocates assisting trafficked and exploited persons seeking to vacate criminal convictions for crimes they were compelled to commit. In the past eight years, more than half of the states in the U.S. have adopted laws allowing trafficked and exploited persons to vacate or expunge convictions arising from trafficking and exploitation. The Vacatur & Expungement Database includes cases, articles, redacted court documents, redacted briefs, and news reports pertaining to these laws.
The database may be found here: Vacatur & Expungement Database
Individuals and organizations are encouraged to submit relevant materials, including redacted court documents and briefs, to the database. Please contact Alexandra Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit materials or if you have any questions.
The database was developed with the assistance of a team of associates (Wendy Fu, Julius Jefferson, and Dening Kong) from the international law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, under the supervision of Michele J. Meises, counsel at Weil, on a pro bono basis. Weil’s anti-trafficking work is spearheaded by Weil partner Richard Rothman, and involves both national and local efforts to assist trafficking victims.
Court Advocacy and Transitional Youth Program
AO is working with state and national partners to establish a series of Court Advocacy and Transitional Youth Programs in Ohio to assist both minors and adults involved in the legal system. Part of this initiative is our innovative approach to youth who age out of the juvenile court system and become involved with adult courts. Setting up a transitional program to assist these youth will ensure that there is continuum of services available to them, including social services, mental health, educational assistance, and legal assistance. Transitional youth, typically aged 17-24, represent a segment of trafficked and exploited persons for whom there is a gap in services. A transitional program will fill that gap and keep existing relationships intact, providing stability for them during their recovery process.
Sustainable Housing and Home Ownership
Sustainable housing is one of the most pressing needs for trafficked and exploited persons at different stages of their recovery. However, the costs associated with providing housing are high and often make providing emergency, transitional, and permanent housing solutions prohibitive for governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as for individuals. “Sustainable” housing includes keeping costs low in both construction and maintenance, without sacrificing quality, durability, and availability. Ao is working with community partners to draft a call for proposals to design sustainable housing. We believe that by using green technology, sustainable materials, and innovative design and working with community partners and local businesses and innovators we can keep housing costs low. Successful designs and strategies will make housing a reality for trafficked and exploited persons in every stage of their recovery, including home ownership.
Empowerment, Education, and Employment
Providing trafficked and exploited persons with the skills to advocate for themselves and with opportunities to take their lives in new directions is essential to their success. Two important keys to empowerment and success are education and employment. Ao is working with its partners to utilize existing mentoring and employment programs, and establish new programs, with local professional groups, universities, agencies, and leaders in various fields including education, medicine, music, art, dance, design, technology, construction, architecture, professional trades, the food industry, finance, and business. Mentoring programs, presentations, and information fairs will provide survivors with a wide variety of interests which they may pursue. Educational programs and opportunities will give individuals additional skills to enhance their existing strengths and explore their academic interests, which will increase their confidence and ability to secure permanent employment. Employment opportunities may include training, internships, and sponsored employment, leading to a stable and focused career. Clients will direct their own paths to achievement, according to the timeline and methods which best suit them, to accomplish the goals they set.