Photo by Jeff Hutchens/OSI
Martina E. Vandenberg, Founder and President
Martina E. Vandenberg is the founder and president of The Human Trafficking Legal Center (HT Legal). Vandenberg established HT Legal (formerly HT Pro Bono) in 2012 with generous support from the Open Society Foundations (OSF) Fellowship Program.
Prior to becoming an OSF Fellow, Vandenberg served as a partner at Jenner & Block LLP, where she focused on complex commercial litigation and internal investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. She served as a senior member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee.
Vandenberg has spent two decades fighting human trafficking, forced labor, rape as a war crime, and violence against women. Vandenberg has represented victims of human trafficking pro bono in immigration, criminal, and civil cases. She has testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, the Helsinki Commission, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the House Armed Services Committee on an array of human rights issues. Through HT Legal, Vandenberg has trained more than 3,200 pro bono attorneys nationwide to handle human trafficking matters.
A former Human Rights Watch researcher, Vandenberg spearheaded investigations into human rights violations in the Russian Federation, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Uzbekistan, Kosovo, Israel, and Ukraine. She is the author of two Human Rights Watch reports, “Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia & Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution,” and “Kosovo: Rape as a Weapon of ‘Ethnic Cleansing.’”
As a researcher for the Israel Women’s Network, she investigated and published the first report documenting human trafficking into Israel. While living in the Russian Federation in the 1990s, she co-founded Syostri, one of Russia’s first rape crisis centers for women.
Vandenberg has received multiple awards for her leadership against human trafficking. In 2012, the Freedom Network USA presented Vandenberg with the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award for her “outstanding leadership and dedication in working to combat human trafficking and slavery in the United States.” In 2013, she received the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation’s Stevens Award for outstanding service in public interest law. T’ruah presented Vandenberg with the Raphael Lemkin Human Rights Award in 2014. She received the Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize the following year. Vandenberg currently serves as a co-chair of the International Bar Association’s Human Trafficking Task Force.
A Rhodes Scholar and Truman Scholar, Vandenberg has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the American University Washington College of Law and at the Oxford University Human Rights Summer Program. Vandenberg is admitted to practice in New York and the District of Columbia.
Alexandra F. Levy, Senior Staff Attorney
Alexandra F. Levy is a senior staff attorney at The Human Trafficking Legal Center. Levy has contributed to key materials on civil trafficking litigation, and provides technical assistance to pro bono law firms representing victims in federal cases. She developed and maintains HT Legal’s database of all cases brought under the civil provision of the 2003 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, a resource HT Legal provides to advocates and attorneys handling pro bono trafficking matters nationwide.
A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Levy also serves as an Adjunct Professor at the Notre Dame School of Law. Her current scholarship focuses on legal remedies for trafficking victims with criminal convictions. Levy is admitted to practice in Indiana, Illinois (inactive) and the District of Columbia (inactive).
Sarah Bessell, Staff Attorney
Sarah Bessell is a staff attorney at The Human Trafficking Legal Center, where she conducts research on accountability for human trafficking victims. Bessell has a background in international human rights and conflict prevention. She spent time in Cambodia, where she worked in the Office of the International Co-Prosecutor of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Prior to this, she worked on international conflict resolution issues at the University for Peace in Ethiopia and at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Bessell holds a J.D. from the George Washington University Law School and an M.A. (Conflict Resolution) from Georgetown University. Bessell is admitted to practice in New York and the District of Columbia.
Omnia Joehar, Operations Manager
Omnia Joehar is responsible for planning, directing, and executing the day-to-day operations of The Human Trafficking Legal Center. Prior to HT Legal, she served as the Operations Manager for Penny Appeal USA, a startup development nonprofit organization that focuses on eradicating intergenerational poverty through sustainable, innovative programs. Joehar holds a Bachelor’s from the University of Maryland in Government & Politics, with an accompanying certificate in Women & Gender Studies.