The University of Baltimore School of Law and Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the largest provider of pro bono civil legal services in Maryland, have received new funding from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to significantly expand their Human Trafficking Prevention Project (HTPP).
The HTPP supports survivors of human trafficking and populations put at high risk of exploitation due to experiences with interpersonal violence, sexual assault, housing instability, and other types of trauma or systemic inequities with critical legal services that create a path to stability. The grant will provide nearly $600,000 over the course of three years to extend the reach of the program in Baltimore City and into more rural areas of Maryland, as well as increase the number of staff who will deliver free legal services and full representation to survivors.
“We are thrilled that the Human Trafficking Prevention Project, a partnership between the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, has been recognized by the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crimes as deserving of this generous grant,” said Jessica Emerson, J.D. ’13, director of the project.
“The HTPP was founded to provide survivors of human trafficking with access to criminal record relief, which can dramatically shift a survivor’s outlook on life. The training, outreach and direct legal services the HTPP provides aids clients in improving their self-sufficiency and stability, which in turn assists in recovery from trauma and reduces the likelihood of continued exploitation. We look forward to growing this program throughout the state of Maryland, so that many more survivors can move beyond the trauma of their trafficking experience to build positive, empowering futures for themselves and their families.”
Created in 2015 as a clinical program at Baltimore Law, the HTPP provides criminal record relief to survivors of human trafficking and other at-risk populations to remove barriers to employment, housing, public benefits, and student loans caused by having a criminal record so they can move forward with their lives. In addition to criminal record relief, the HTPP, through its partnership with MVLS, provides access to a wide range of civil legal services, including legal representation for cases involving family law, tax and bankruptcy, landlord/tenant, name and gender marker changes, and consumer matters. The HTPP collaborates with victim service providers and Human Trafficking Task Forces around Maryland to lead free trainings on human trafficking prevention and criminal record relief.
“We are so proud of Jessica Emerson, a University of Baltimore law school graduate and a leader in the movement to protect victims of human trafficking,” said Ronald Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law. “Her clinic offered students a chance to engage in this important social justice effort. And now this federal grant will enable her to take her vision to a new level, working with our longtime partners at MVLS.”
Since its creation, the HTPP has helped more than 900 survivors create opportunities for self-sufficiency through education and free civil legal services. With the generous funding, the HTPP will hire a paralegal and two staff attorneys to assist more survivors of trauma and exploitation and to grow the regional scope of the project.
“We are extremely grateful for the DOJ funding to build awareness of the HTPP among local human trafficking survivors – many of whom don’t realize there are free specialized legal services to help them reclaim and stabilize their lives,” commented Heather Heiman, Human Trafficking Prevention Project manager at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.
“We lean on a network of pro bono attorneys and tax professionals as well as community partners to remove barriers to employment and housing, making it easier for survivors to have greater agency and opportunities as they move forward with their lives. We look forward to continuing this important work in concert with the University of Baltimore School of Law.”
This project is authorized by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (18 U.S.C. § 3014(h)(2)) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 (22 U.S.C. § 7105(b)(2)).