LAWRENCE — The common perception of human trafficking might be that of young people forced into prostitution or substandard working conditions. The ways in which attorneys, and even law students, can help prevent and respond to human trafficking might not make the headlines, but a new class at the University of Kansas School of Law is helping those on the front lines fight human trafficking and serve victims.
Katie Cronin, clinical associate professor at the law school and in the Department of Family Medicine, taught Human Trafficking Law and Policy for the first time this semester. Cronin, who also directs the law school’s Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic, said she wanted to teach this new class to help law students understand that attorneys in many different specializations will likely encounter this issue at some point in their careers. The course introduced students to international protocols and domestic laws that are designed to prevent human trafficking, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators and those who benefit from human trafficking. The students, in turn, wrote papers that speak to a particular facet of human trafficking or produced projects that will provide resources to attorneys, health care workers, police and shelters who assist human trafficking victims here in the state of Kansas.
“Human trafficking has been viewed as a coastal problem. People don’t always grasp that its victims originate in the Midwest as well,” Cronin said. “There are victims of all ages, both male and female, and it’s a problem both foreign and domestic. Sex trafficking often garners most of the media attention, but, statistically, labor trafficking is happening at a much higher rate, and there can be sexual victimization happening in the labor trafficking context. To think of sex and labor exploitation as always being two very distinct things is false.“
In addition to learning about laws like the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the class produced projects specifically designed to assist attorneys, victim advocates, police and health care workers in helping trafficking victims. The projects included a manual for pro bono attorneys working T visa cases, an immigration remedy available to foreign national victims, prepared with the help of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. Lauren Bavitz prepared a Know Your Rights brochure for trafficking victims served by the Willow Domestic Violence Center. There are a host of legal issues for victims to consider, from protection orders to immigration issues to housing matters.
“I was interested in the class to understand the legal nuances in combating the issue. For example, I wanted to learn the different legal remedies between non-citizen versus citizen victims and the most effective way to prosecute perpetrators,” Bavitz said. “My project connects a victim-centered approach with practical legal resources, because often, legal remedies are unattainable for those who do not know where to look. I hope that in distributing the brochure throughout Kansas, I can connect a few victims and families to the legal remedies they need.”
Marci Mauch, a student in the class and a former MLP Clinic participant, produced training materials to help police officers and health care professionals at the University of Kansas Hospital recognize signs of human trafficking and appropriate ways to ask questions, respond and offer help. Trafficking victims often come into contact with police or medical professionals, and it is not always immediately clear that they may be involved in a trafficking situation.
“While working at (KU’s) Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic, I learned that health care providers are in an excellent and unique position to identify victims of trafficking. I hope it will make a difference for all those that use it – for the health care providers to be able to identify the victims, the victims to receive the help they need to escape or overcome their situations and attorneys and law enforcement to be able to identify the traffickers, build a case against them and help the victims,” Mauch said. “Trafficking victims can be hidden in plain sight. If something seems off, it is better to say something than to ignore it. So many trafficking victims are rescued by good Samaritans that noticed something was wrong and reported it to the authorities.”
Students also researched and wrote about a range of topics, including:
- Human trafficking and connections to the U.S. military
- Ensuring multinational corporations are accountable and their supply lines are free from trafficking
- LGBT youth and trafficking
- Victims who are minors
- Immigration and trafficking.
The value of examining the topic of human trafficking in a broad legal sense lies in the fact that the problem touches so many areas of law, Cronin said. Whether the students go on to work in immigration or corporate law, prosecution, victim services or numerous other specialties, they’ll be able to make a difference.
“We have this cohort of law students who will graduate and pursue a range of legal work but who will now have awareness of this complex problem,” Cronin said. “Knowing students have that awareness at the beginning of their careers excites me.”
Providing services and resources to those already working in the field also gives students valuable experience while proving they can help address societal problems while they are still students.
“I think the class was solution-focused. Of course, we started by gaining an understanding of what the problem is and its basis in the law, but then we looked at ways to use the law as a tool to tackle it,” Cronin said. “That corresponds with my understanding of what KU Law students are truly capable of achieving, and I think it corresponds with the abolitionist values of our state and university.”