Innovations In The Fight Against Human Trafficking Symposium: Introduction and Panel 1

By: Nicole Chamra


Introduction to the Topic – Innovation at the Front Lines

Florrie Burke, Founding Member and Co-Chair of the Freedom Network

Judge Pamela Chen, United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of New York

Panel I – Innovations Now! Developments in the Field of Practice

Patricia Medige, Senior Attorney, Colorado Legal Services, co-founder and President of the Board of Directors of the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network

Alexandra Patino, Director of the New York City Family Justice Center in Queens

Anita Ramasastry, Professor of Law, University of Washington School of Law

Dan Werner, Supervising Attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center

Moderator: Florrie Burke, Founding Member and Co-Chair of the Freedom Network


As an introduction to this day-long symposium, Florrie Burke and the Honorable Pamela Chen discussed the history of human trafficking cases. Judge Chen briefly touched upon a 1997 labor trafficking case in New York, and a 2003 sex trafficking case, which occurred in Mexico. These cases demonstrated that the United States was ill equipped to deal with trafficking cases. However, with today’s advances in technology, databases are used to file cases based on the type of trafficking activity. Judge Chen explained the difficulties associated with identifying victims and cooperating with other countries.

The focus is now on the survivors of trafficking and how they must not be ignored as human beings. The trafficking victim is not the “other.” Judge Chen closed her discussion by urging personnel to stop asking victims to tell their stories; instead, she said the focus should be on life after trafficking. She encouraged the audience to take creative and innovative steps to prevent trafficking, while respecting privacy concerns with regard to trafficking survivors. 

Following this introduction, four panelists discussed different approaches to combating human trafficking.  Patricia Medige discussed statewide legal aid and human trafficking projects. She conversed about a visa program for range-workers. It involved a highly controlled environment of forced labor work. Through a statewide coalition, the outreach with the herders is continuing, but there are still enormous challenges. The abusive legal process and the workers’ issues overlap with each other, and networks and outreach programs must be willing to work together to solve these problems.

Anita Ramasastry discussed the Uniform Act on the Prevention and Remedies for Human Trafficking. Representing women and children survivors, she elaborated on corporate responsibility in the private sector. She spoke about the new definition of coercion, which focuses on physical and mental impairment. This definition expands the original definition of coercion methods used. Her next topic was providing a safe harbor, an immunity defense, for minors. These children are victims of commercial and sexual exploitation. The new approach taken primarily focuses on the victim.

Dan Werner addressed fighting hate, teaching tolerance, and seeking justice. He emphasized how the struggle is not from a lack of resources, but is from combating imagery and the common perception of what human trafficking is. He also focused on the way in which human trafficking is perceived in the world. Acting as a civil litigator, Werner referenced one juror’s response to a labor trafficking image: “That is not trafficking. I have seen the movie Taken and that is not Taken.”

When he conducted a simple Google search of human trafficking, it was not until the 54th image that he saw adult males being portrayed. Werner stated that when jurors see males as being victims of trafficking, it is hard for them to perceive and believe. Those males are his clients; he had a case against a fabric company in the Gulf Coast that brought welders in from India on temporary visas and used forced labor tactics to exploit these workers. His overarching goal was to urge people not to constrain themselves to the “sexy” human trafficking cases, but to also remember the other forms of trafficking, such as labor exploitation.

Alexandra Patino discussed the correlation between human trafficking and domestic violence. The perpetrator of the domestic violence may be the perpetrator of human trafficking, which makes it inevitable that sexual exploitation will occur. The overarching theme was that it is hard to identify and tally sex trafficking victims, but the programs and centers are providing services in the epicenter of New York.


For video of the introduction, please click here.

For video of this panel, please click here.