“Human trafficking cases and victims don’t fit into the perfect boxes that soundbites and movies would like us to believe.”

The latest pair of Nike Air Max trainers costs at least £100. This is also how much some human lives are worth. NGO Free The Slaves estimates that the average cost of a slave is £90, making these humans cheaper than the branded shoes people wear on their feet.

Contrary to popular belief, slavery is not a thing of the past. It is still an issue that deeply affects tens of millions of people today. Men, women and children around the world are bought and sold – often with the false promise of a bright future in a foreign country.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is the fastest growing international crime and one of the largest sources of income for organised crime.

Bridgette Carr, the Founding Director of the Human Trafficking Clinic (HTC) law program, believes that education is the best way to tackle this growing problem. HTC was launched in 2009 at the University of Michigan in the United States and is the first law programme solely dedicated to human trafficking. Through a collaboration of students and lawyers, the clinic provides free legal services to those who have been a victim of modern-day slavery.

HTC serves all victims of human trafficking, including men, women, children, US citizens, as well as foreign nationals. Students are able to obtain real-world experience by working on behalf of trafficked victims and are able to identify solutions to combat it.

Speaking to the IPF, Bridgette said: “Human trafficking cases and victims don’t fit into the perfect boxes that soundbites and movies would like us to believe.”

She explained that it’s hard to know how many human trafficking victims exist in the United States:
Despite cities claiming to be the ‘number two’ or ‘number three’ hotspot for human trafficking or child trafficking, we don’t actually know who has the largest problem.  All of these claims are false.”

The HTC Director explained that the programme is particularly important because legal services in United States are mainly focused on visas for foreign national victims or vacating prostitution convictions for sex trafficking victims. Bridgette thinks that the relevance of HTC also comes from avoiding misinformation. She told the IPF:

 “Educate yourself first, then raise awareness.  Too often I see people who think they are raising awareness but instead are spreading misinformation.”

Being a victim of human trafficking is a trauma that is very difficult to overcome and as Bridgette noted, victims often need mental health services to recover from the exploitation. She said: “The support for the victims of human trafficking is very limited or completely unavailable”.

HTC hopes to strengthen anti-trafficking laws in the United States, which, according to UN studies is one of the main destinations of human trafficking, together with Western and Central Europe, Middle East, Central America and the Caribbean.

Looking ahead, Bridgette hopes that the clinic will continue to educate law students on how to be “phenomenal lawyers while providing the best legal services possible to our clients”. Even though this is a university programme, Bridgette believes that everyone one should be more informed.

 “I think it is important for everyone – not just students – to learn about the reality of human trafficking.  There are way too many myths out there about the issue.”

To learn more about the Human Trafficking Clinic, visit their website.