Human Trafficking in the News and LAF’s TSAP Work

The Elephant in the Room is a new series written by LAF attorneys discussing their experience representing individuals in situations impacted by systemic racism. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

The Atlantic recently published a poignant, but problematic article from author Alex Tizon that details how his family enslaved a Filipino woman, forcing her into domestic servitude, for decades. Tinzon struggles to understand how and why his parents mistreated this woman, known to him as Lola, for years. It is a shocking confession of modern-day slavery in the United States. For many readers, this article exposed them to the insidious nature of human trafficking. Lola is a figure that is ever-present and always working; outsiders find it odd that she is always cooking and cleaning, yet they never are able to name what is happening to her. Human trafficking is evasive like that–it is a crime that occurs in almost all industries, but we find it hard to identify it because it is easier to believe that slavery no longer occurs in the United States. But human trafficking isn’t just a global problem, it’s a local one.

At LAF we combat both sex and labor trafficking through our Trafficking Survivors’ Assistance Program (TSAP). TSAP provides legal representation to human trafficking survivors from all over the world, including U.S. citizens, in a variety of legal areas. While our client demographics are diverse, many clients come from similar circumstances that left them susceptible to traffickers. Human trafficking survivors come from vulnerable populations: runaways, homeless youth, domestic violence victims, impoverished migrants, and other marginalized communities that make them not only easy targets for traffickers, but easier still for the general population to dismiss as “real” victims. This is why one of TSAP’s biggest and recurrent responsibilities is to convince law enforcement officials that our clients are in fact survivors of human trafficking eligible for various forms of legal remedies.

Failing to recognize survivors of human trafficking is an overarching problem. While victims come from all walks of life, people often have a set idea of what a real victim looks like. They may imagine a young White woman forced into sex work. While White women are trafficked, they are not the only ones targeted by traffickers. Women of color are also preyed upon and coerced into prostitution, yet they are more likely to be ignored and dismissed by those in charge with protecting survivors. This problem is argued in great detail by law professor Cheryl Nelson Butler in her article, The Racial Roots of Human Trafficking. Professor Butler argues that a major reason why the justice system fails to see women of color as victims is due to long-held stereotypes that perpetuate myths about their sexuality. This results in women of color being punished more harshly for prostitution rather than being offered assistance as human trafficking survivors. At LAF, we see the barriers placed before our client/survivors when they fail to meet the sex trafficking survivor prototype. We fight right alongside them to educate law enforcement and obtain the legal relief available to our clients.

Beyond sex trafficking, deep-seeded racial stereotypes facilitate labor trafficking. Certain social groups are stereotyped with being hard workers or submissive, which allows traffickers to abuse people under the guise of hard work. The power of racial stereotypes became evident in a recent trafficking case involving Chinese buffet restaurant workers. We represented some of the trafficking survivors who were primarily from Latin America. Various temp agencies placed our clients in restaurants after advertising that they had “honest” Mexicans available for work. The restaurant owners then worked our clients to exhaustion through physical and emotional abuse.

So while racial stereotypes may seem disconnected from human trafficking, the truth is that traffickers use all tools at their disposal to further their crime. Relying on the public’s implicit bias that certain groups don’t mind being “worked hard” or that other groups are hypersexualized works to the traffickers’ advantage. It makes the public question and dismiss whether a survivor is a “true” victim because they fail to meet a stereotypical standard. With over 20 million people trafficked globally, we know that people are trafficked from all walks of life. Yet, when we envision only one type of victim we do a disservice to all other survivors of human trafficking. Further, we embolden the trafficker who opts to victimize certain types of people believing that no one will care about their wellbeing.

LAF cares, and through TSAP we ensure that traffickers are held accountable; law enforcement protects all people; and our communities gain awareness to fight this ever-present problem.

Victims, Survivors, and April eNewsletter

Often, our clients need our help due to situations that arise outside their control and that are not their fault.  These people could be described as victims – of abuse, of oversight mistakes, of circumstance – but most of them prefer to be identified as survivors.  Some of them include Shelmun’s client Ellen, who was nearly evicted from her house because of a bank’s mistake; Kathryn’s client Betsy, who was almost not granted her nursing license because of records that should have been sealed; all of the CLASP program’s clients, who survive violence and abuse; and people subjected to systemic racism just because of where they live and the skimpy resources available to them.  Nonetheless, they continue to survive, and, with LAF’s help, to thrive.
You can read about these stories, and much more, in this month’s eNewsletter.  On behalf of everyone who does this work every day, and everyone who benefits from our services and your contributions, thank you.  Your continued support makes it possible for LAF to fight for the rights of victims and survivors and to ensure that they can see justice and fairness prevail, regardless of their circumstances.

October eNewsletter

Last week, we celebrated Pro Bono Week, honoring all of the volunteers who stretch LAF’s capacity to serve even more of the most vulnerable people in our community.
From our in-house AmeriCorps VISTAs and pro bono counsel, like Peter Monahan, whose story you can read in this month’s eNewsletter, to the Pro Bono Panel of attorneys and experts who take cases whenever we ask, to the teams from firms and corporations who staff our monthly clinics in the community, volunteers make our world go round.  The attorneys at DLA Piper and Discover Financial Services recently received a windfall of praise and media attention for their dedication to the Woodlawn Clinic.
As always, on behalf of the staff and volunteers, the Board and YPB, and all the clients and communities we serve here at LAF, thank you for your continued support of our work.  Read more about it in this month’s eNewsletter. When you invest your time or money in LAF, you are investing in making lasting change in the lives of people living in poverty across Chicagoland.  Thank you.

World Series Wager

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The largest civil legal aid organizations in the home cities of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians have raised a bet on the outcome of the 2016 World Series.  Both organizations work to provide free civil legal services to people living in poverty in their regions, and have entered into a friendly wager on behalf of their teams, who are each hoping to break the two longest championship droughts in Major League Baseball.

From Chicago, LAF has promised a deep-dish pizza lunch to Cleveland Legal Aid’s staff if the Cubs can’t win their first World Series since 1908.  Cleveland’s Legal Aid answered the challenge, offering Cleveland pierogis to the staff of LAF if the Indians lose the series.

LAF’s Executive Director, Diana C. White, explained “For the last 50 years, LAF has flown the W flag in the courtroom for people living in poverty in our community.  We’re so excited to cheer on the Cubs and Chicago in the World Series!”

Cleveland Legal Aid’s Executive Director, Colleen M. Cotter, highlighted “Our attorneys hit home runs each day for our clients, so it is terrific to celebrate some sports success with LAF through this friendly bet.”  Cotter adds, “The last time Cleveland won the World Series, our Legal Aid was celebrating its 43rd year of serving the community.  I don’t think our attorneys back in 1948 ever imagined our Legal Aid would be celebrating its 111th year when we win our next World Series.”

Follow along all the fun on social media on LAF’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and Cleveland’s website.  Go Cubs Go!

50th Anniversary Retrospective: LAF and Cabrini Green

As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary this year, we’re looking back over some of the most impactful work LAF has been involved in over the last half century.  Some of those cases have been on behalf of the residents of the Cabrini-Green Housing Development.  Check out our interactive retrospective on our website now!

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Anniversary of Chicago’s Landlords and Tenants Ordinance

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of Chicago’s Landlords and Tenants Ordinance, a landmark piece of legislation that governs most residential dwelling units in Chicago.  “Prior to the RLTO’s passage,” says Larry Wood, Director of LAF’s Housing Practice Group, “there was a significant imbalance of power between residential property owners and their tenants, and unscrupulous landlords took terrible advantage of this imbalance.”  Thousands of low-income tenants suffered the worst abuses, including deplorable living conditions, retaliation for complaining about such conditions, excessive late fees, unreturned security deposits, and lock-outs (i.e., evictions without authority of law).

Recognizing the need for legislation that would help them address these problems, LAF attorney Bill Wilen and Henry Rose, now a law professor at Loyola University, drafted the RLTO, and Chicago Alderman David Orr tried to get some version of this legislation passed every year after Harold Washington was elected Mayor.  Finally, on September 8, 1986, the Chicago City Council passed the RLTO.

“It withstood an immediate constitutional challenge from the Chicago Board of Realtors,” said Mr. Wilen, “and it leveled the playing field by giving all residential tenants, including those with extremely limited resources, fundamentally important rights and protections, as well as the means to enforce them.”  For example, the RLTO set forth rules governing the treatment of security deposits, authorized a tenant to withhold rent to address a landlord’s failure to properly maintain the premises, and prohibited excessive late fees, retaliatory evictions, and lock-outs.  It also imposed automatic financial penalties for violating RLTO provisions, and contained an attorneys’ fee provision to motivate lawyers to represent low-income tenants who have meritorious claims under the RLTO.

LAF is proud of its instrumental role in the RLTO’s passage, and of the way LAF and other tenants’ rights groups have used the RLTO to help thousands of Chicago tenants improve their living conditions and defend themselves against unprincipled and overreaching landlords.