Published in UMB News on January 23, 2023
The University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Susan G. Esserman, JD — founder and director of the SAFE (Support, Advocacy, Freedom, and Empowerment) Center for Human Trafficking Survivors — was recognized Jan. 20 by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin in his “Local Heroes Video Series.”
Esserman, a former deputy U.S. trade representative with the rank of ambassador, started her work over a decade ago when she began to take on pro bono legal representations of sex and labor trafficking survivors.
“I was very drawn and deeply affected by the work given the severe nature of the circumstances and the brutal trafficking. And then I began to receive more and more referrals of trafficking cases from Maryland, actually Montgomery County and Prince George’s County,” Esserman told Raskin, who represents Maryland’s 8th District.
“I was stunned by the prevalence of labor trafficking in our backyard. People usually think of this as something in some remote region, and I quickly began to realize that providing legal services alone was not sufficient. You needed a holistic approach … and it is with that idea that I approached the University with the idea of the SAFE Center.”
“Ambassador Esserman has been a very devoted volunteer and activist on behalf of victims of human trafficking,” Raskin says in the video. “She started the center at the University of Maryland — the SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors. … And it is a pioneering and unique organization in Maryland, and really across the country, because it combines direct service for people who are victims of human trafficking — legal services, medical services, mental health services, job and economic empowerment — services with research and advocacy on the problem generally.”
The SAFE Center provides direct services for survivors of sex and labor trafficking, conducts research to fill knowledge gaps and provide better service to survivors, and promotes advocacy in support of justice and empowerment of survivors.
The SAFE Center is an initiative of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State — a collaboration between UMB and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP). MPower leverages the sizable strengths and complementary missions of both institutions to strengthen Maryland’s innovation economy, advance interdisciplinary research, create opportunities for students, and solve important problems for the people of Maryland and the nation. Working together, UMB and UMCP achieve innovation and impact through collaboration.