With its location along the I-95 corridor and proximity to major cities up and down the East Coast, Maryland has been described as a hub of human trafficking. The MPowering the State: University of Maryland Strategic Partnership initiative is taking steps to help its victims, some of the most vulnerable and invisible people in our communities.
The University of Maryland Support, Advocacy, Freedom and Empowerment (SAFE) Center for Human Trafficking Survivors in College Park provides case management, counseling, legal, and other services for adults and children who have been victims of sex and labor trafficking. It collaborates with community organizations and task forces to enhance services for human trafficking survivors and engages in research, policy development, and advocacy in this critically important area.
Since opening in May 2016, the center, working with partners within and outside the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), has provided social, basic medical and mental health, and legal services to more than 20 clients, many of whom have young children.
“A holistic approach is essential for human trafficking survivors to recover from the trauma,” says center founder and director Susan Esserman, JD, as they need more than just legal assistance. Clients receive medical care through the School of Nursing at UMB and mental health treatment through UMCP psychology clinics. Experts at the School of Social Work and Francis King Carey School of Law at UMB are conducting groundbreaking research into human trafficking, and economic empowerment programming is being developed.
“This is a project where multidisciplinary coordination and integration is absolutely essential,” Esserman says. “We are fortunate to draw on the many different vantage points and expertise within the universities.”
In the latest example of research designed to inform service delivery and policy objectives, the School of Public Policy in College Park offered a spring 2017 course to research critical issues related to the SAFE Center and establish metrics for success.