Case Western Reserve’s Human Trafficking Project assisting survivors as part of ‘Operation Autumn Hope’

photo of law school building

During a massive statewide crackdown on human trafficking last month, Anjali Kanwar and several of her classmates at Case Western Reserve University played critical roles that didn’t make the national headlines.

While law-enforcement agencies rounded up alleged human traffickers as part of the sweep, called “Operation Autumn Hope,” members of the university’s Human Trafficking Project offered social services and legal representation to trafficking survivors and sex workers identified during the sting operation.

“When you’re right there, it feels like you’re really making a difference,” said Kanwar, a third-year law student certified by the Ohio Supreme Court to represent clients under the supervision of a faculty member. Kanwar had the opportunity to participate in the operation as part of her semester-long experience as a legal intern in the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic.  

Housed within the School of Law, the clinic collaborates with the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. A team of law students and masters-level social work students, led by licensed attorneys and social workers, work directly with trafficking survivors and populations that face a high-risk of trafficking victimization.

Many of the survivors have criminal records of their own, mostly related to prostitution and substance use.

“People deserve second chances and a fresh start,” Kanwar said. “Criminal records make a person more vulnerable to trafficking victimization. When someone has a record, being able to clear these charges allows them to get it off their shoulders and move forward with their lives.”

Kanwar has spent the past several months filing the requisite paperwork to get her clients’ criminal records expunged. She also sees her role also as a supporter of those who have been trafficked.

“There’s more to representing someone in human trafficking than just reading cases,” Kanwar said. “There’s more to this than you might see on TV.”

Operation Autumn Hope identified more than 100 individuals who have been trafficked or are at high-risk of victimization during the multi-pronged covert sting operation and subsequent investigation.

Those are the people who need access to legal and social services, said Maya Simek, a clinical law professor and co-director of the university’s Health and Human Trafficking Clinic.

“We’re right at the intersection of the police and social services,” she said. “We’re helping to fill in the gaps to those services. Trying to remove the legal barriers—that’s our niche.”

Simek said the experience gives students the opportunity to witness first-hand a prime example of the interprofessional collaboration critical to anti-trafficking efforts. The Human Trafficking Clinic partnered with several agencies as part of the operation, including the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and more than 50 law-enforcement agencies statewide.

Making a difference

“We have this unique focus on the provision of interdisciplinary collaboration and connection to try to combat human trafficking,” Simek said. “Having these relationships is a valuable part of our students’ experiences.”

Kanwar agreed.

“We don’t just deal with human trafficking,” she said, noting the university’s Human Trafficking Project is why she selected Case Western Reserve. “We’re also working with the law school’s Health Law Clinic and the Second Chance Reentry Clinic. It’s being involved in all of this that makes this experience so special.”


For more information, contact Colin McEwen at Colin.McEwen@case.edu.