AnnJanette Alejano-Steele, Ph. D.
Research Director, The Colorado Project
LCHT Co-Founder and Board Chairperson
Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking
Notice: National setting. Glaring stage lights.
Cue: Talking Heads, Once in a lifetime
There have been many times in my life where I have moments of pure and simple notice. Times where I’ve found myself consciously noticing where I am and wondering, “How did I get here?” As in Wow these are top-of-the-line stage lights. And there are these Attorneys General listening to what I’m saying about the Colorado Project.
How did I get here?
I had the honor of sitting on a panel at the Presidential Summit of the National Association for Attorneys General that took place in Seattle, WA between March 28 and 30. Until this point of personally sitting on stage, I had the opportunity to sit in the audience to hear from many leading folks in the anti-trafficking field. Thanks to the table set by Rob McKenna and his NAAG staff, many anti-trafficking folks and countless representatives from state AGs offices were flown to Seattle to make the collective point of the importance of prioritizing human trafficking as a very difficult crime worthy of prosecuting. And I was included as one of the voices.
Admittedly, when I walked into the learning space (read: ballroom), I was blown away by the sheer size and production of the venue. (That’s not easy to do, having coordinated many conferences in my past.) The minute I stepped in, I gulped. I saw high end professional video and audio equipment, a large bank of stage lights and a huge podium flanked by two tables. And I was grateful for not being on the first panel.
Each year the President of NAAG chooses an issue/ crime to bring to the attention of the 50 Attorney Generals offices, and this year it was human trafficking. It could have easily been money laundering or the challenges of navigating federal and state jurisdictions, but thanks in part to the steadfast efforts of anti-trafficking folks in Washington State, human trafficking stayed present for McKenna.
Organized by Presidential Pillars, the Summit included these categories: 1. Make the Case; 2. Hold Traffickers Accountable; 3. Rescue Victims; and 4. Reduce Demand. These were the nine primary sessions, in addition to lunch speakers and film makers unveiling their efforts to draw wider public attention to the issue:
- Human Trafficking: A North American Perspective
- Rescuing Victims: Human Trafficking and Major Sporting Events
- Keynote Address by US Ambassador at Large Luis CdeBaca
- Making The Case: Research as a Tool to Define the Problem and Measure Progress
- Public Response: Corporations Taking the Lead in Fighting Human Trafficking
- The Business of Trafficking: Data Mining and Following the International Money Trail
- Prosecuting Traffickers: Best Practices
- Holding Traffickers Accountable: What NGO’s Want Law Enforcement to Know
- Mobilizing Communities to Care for Victims: Collaboration Amongst anti-trafficking NGO’s
My role on the last panel was to feature our work on the Colorado Project to Comprehensively Combat Human Trafficking, one that has taken intentional time and design to frame the complexity of this crime. Although my nerves were on high gear (cue music), I stayed true to what I was there to represent: the hard work of my colleagues who were trying to think critically and comprehensively about this issue. I was there to represent 30 of us who were creating a tool to think comprehensively about prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership at the statewide level.
As a long-time educator, I could see the general challenge of educating representatives from the 50 AGs offices. Clearly, the goal was to convey the importance of this issue—to localize it, not only for the United States, but for each of the 50 states. The other goal was for panel presenters to provide foundational resources, some that have been carefully built over the last 12 years.
But then…as with every audience, the true challenge comes after the event. Will this crime remain present in their home states, long after they have left Seattle? What politics will muddy these new lenses upon return? Which AGs will sustain this momentum?
To have the opportunity to see power structures that help to create policy juxtaposed to folks in the anti-trafficking field was fascinating. In practice, this was an impressively massive “space in between” prosecutors and practitioners. If there was one random observation made from my time amongst these two groups, it was that people were trying in earnest to communicate. There were efforts to speak and listen…all in the name of making change, making a prosecutorial dent in this crime.
It was good to hear various exchanges and efforts people made to network and bring consistent message of prioritizing attention on this crime was humbling.
No matter how different each speaker came to the issue, no matter how diverse the listener, it was good to see an alignment of a single message: Make human trafficking a prosecution priority for your state.
That remains to be seen in the months ahead. But it gives me some hope.