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Tulane Law students explore human trafficking and trauma recovery

March 25, 2015

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To practice techniques for interviewing underage sex-crime victims, Laura Ospina Montana, a graduate student at Tulane Law’s Payson Center for International Development, talks with an Eden House volunteer playing the role of a young exploitation survivor.

Tulane Law School's new interdisciplinary course on human trafficking law was designed to immerse students in the many dimensions of a daunting international dilemma — dealing with policymakers, understanding law enforcement aspects, assisting traumatized victims — and it has quickly done that.

During this first semester, students have met one-on-one with the Attorney General of Thailand, a Tulane Law graduate responsible for his country's intensified plan for implementing an anti-trafficking law.

They've been briefed by a federal official who traveled from Washington, D.C., to explain the DHS Blue Campaign aimed at educating the public about traffickers' methods as well as services available for victims.

Students also have been trained by medical and counseling professionals in the complexities and sensitivities involved in interviewing victims.

Taught by former U.S. diplomat Kara Van de Carr (L ’98), the course approaches a globally critical problem with the immediacy it demands, giving students a hands-on, in-depth look into the range of issues faced by victims of prostitution, exploitation and violence. 

“The class isn’t just focused on the legal aspects of human trafficking, because human trafficking is so complex that, in order to understand your client and to be a good advocate, you need to understand much more than the applicable law,” Van de Carr said.

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Students in Tulane Law’s human trafficking course question Thailand Attorney General Trakul Winitnaiyapak (LLM ’75) during a February visit to the school. Pictured at the table: Rachel Richardson (L ’16), Tanganica Turner (L ’15), Anthony Johnson (L ’15) and Erin Tyrer (L ’16).

She has international and domestic experience dealing with the problem. As vice consul at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, she wrote the Trafficking in Persons Report. In New Orleans, she founded and serves as board president of Eden House, a two-year residential program for women who have survived commercial and sexual exploitation.

Rachel Richardson (L '16) said she enrolled in the class because of its distinct focus. "Human Trafficking is an in-depth look at a topic that isn't taught in most law schools," she said. "Plus, Kara Van de Carr is an expert in the field and has brought several guest speakers to class, including people from the FBI, Homeland Security and a wonderful trauma psychiatrist."

For instance, a psychiatrist demonstrated techniques for persuading untrusting, fearful survivors to tell their stories; a neurogeneticist explained how trauma affects victims' brain chemistry and genetic codes; an assistant U.S. attorney discussed federal prosecution of traffickers; and the former head of the Louisiana Human Trafficking Task Force reviewed state legislative efforts to combat human trafficking.

The visit of Thai Attorney General Trakul Winitnaiyapak (LLM ’75) in February coincided with the first class project: researching and analyzing U.S Trafficking in Persons Reports on 22 countries. The group discussed the State Department's latest trafficking report on Thailand, examining that nation's deeply entrenched problems and exploring potential solutions.

During a day at the law school as part of a U.S. tour, Winitnaiyapak, who became attorney general in mid-2014, spent more than an hour fielding questions from Van de Carr's students. He also delivered a public lecture on his country’s efforts to fight commercial and sexual exploitation, took part in a roundtable sponsored by the Payson Center for International Development and discussed law enforcement concerns with U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite and agents from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.  

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During a February visit to Tulane Law, Thailand Attorney General Trakul Winitnaiyapak (LLM ’75) (left) met with students and local officials and gave a public address about his country’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking.

Later in February, the class spent time with Scott Santoro, who is with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and training adviser for Homeland Security's Blue Campaign.

By connecting students with experts in the field, the class transcends what's available in a textbook.

“It’s not like any law school class they’ve ever had," Van de Carr said. "It’s a totally new and different experience in that it’s much more practical than theoretical.”

In one exercise, for example, students simulated interviews with abuse victims and were coached in proper techniques: Don't block the door. Respect personal space. Be polite. Explain what you'll discuss. Ask open-ended questions when possible. Be prepared for the victim to shut down without warning.

The course is an outgrowth of Tulane Law's well-established relationship with Eden House, which Van de Carr leads. Students volunteer there, lending their skills to the organization’s efforts to shape human trafficking policy and rehabilitate survivors. Through Tulane’s pro bono program, law students assist with legislative research, grant proposal writing, community outreach, continuing legal education seminars and direct services to residents, such as helping them get state IDs and Social Security cards.

Alexandra Triana (L ’16), who worked there throughout summer 2014, called the experience extremely rewarding. “I went into it thinking that I would be helping a women’s organization in a legal capacity, but it ended up opening my eyes to an entirely new world," she said. "It gave us the unique opportunity of interacting with human trafficking victims on a personal level.”

Christina Autin (L '15) has spent the year as an Eden House extern and said it has prepared her for the career she envisions because of the opportunities, such as working with the program's clients and writing to public officials about policy issues.

"It's always been my hope to use my law degree outside of a courtroom — to perform community outreach and education for indigent and underserved populations," she said. "My work with Eden House has been valuable because it's taught me how to present dense legal information to a non-legal audience."


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