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Slavery in Chicago: How a Latham & Watkins associate joined the fight against human trafficking

July 10, 2017
By David Thomas
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

The human trafficking victims Meghan McCall Hansen has worked with look like her.

They have been women, and they are typically in the same age range as the 34-year-old Latham & Watkins associate.

Sometimes they have children, like she does, and they grew up in the Chicago area, like she did.

Since 2013, Hansen has worked pro bono for the Human Trafficking Initiative run by Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services, spending hundreds of hours helping victims.

“Human trafficking is a very large problem. It’s referred to as modern-day slavery,” Hansen said. “The most challenging thing is thinking about the problem more broadly and wondering what it is we can do to help, and how we can get more people to come forward and use our services.”

Last October, the Legal Aid Society awarded Hansen and two of her fellow Latham & Watkins colleagues — Kathryn M. Dunne and Nicholas J. Siciliano — the Scott C. Solberg Pro Bono Award for their representation of four human trafficking victims and their families.

CL: How did you first get involved in doing pro bono work at Metropolitan Family Services?

Hansen: In about 2013, I got involved with a partnership that was going on between Latham and [the society]. … The idea was that Metropolitan Family Services would provide training for Latham attorneys in order to help us be able to work well with victims of human trafficking, to be sensitive to challenges that might present to us and how to communicate effectively, things of that nature.

And then the idea was that, we could be a resource for whatever type of legal need the person had that arose from them being a victim of human trafficking. … It’s been a really cool project and a really cool partnership that’s been going on for several years.

CL: Are all of your clients Chicago-based or Illinois-based? How pervasive is the problem here?

Hansen: Mine have been. Chicago is considered a hub for human trafficking. It’s very difficult to get statistics on this type of activity. … But it is a widely pervasive problem.

CL: What is the most challenging part of this kind of work?

Hansen: The most challenging part is the topic area itself and the enormity of the challenge that’s out there. … For example, the statute under which you can get prostitution convictions expunged from a criminal record if you’ve been a victim of human trafficking. It’s been on the books for several years, but there have only been a handful of cases under it. … I think the challenge is getting the word out there.

It’s a tough problem. When you hear the stories of what people have gone through, the physical and emotional abuse and manipulation, it’s challenging to realize that humans are subjecting other humans to that type of treatment.

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