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 3,600 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 also served 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 Levy Yelderman, Senior Staff Attorney
Alexandra Levy Yelderman is a senior staff attorney at The Human Trafficking Legal Center. Yelderman 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, Yelderman 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. Yelderman is admitted to practice in Indiana, Illinois (inactive) and the District of Columbia (inactive).
Sarah L. Bessell, Senior Staff Attorney
Sarah L. Bessell is a senior staff attorney at The Human Trafficking Legal Center, where she represents victims of trafficking in immigration and civil cases. Bessell also conducts research on accountability for human trafficking victims and has authored publications on the intersection between human trafficking and corruption, diplomatic immunity, and domestic violence. Bessell manages HT Legal’s programs on the trafficking of persons with disabilities and international strategic litigation. 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.
Shayna Horwitz, Development and Communications Director
Shayna Horwitz is the Development and Communications Director for The Human Trafficking Legal Center. Shayna graduated with a Masters in Global Communication from The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University in 2019. Prior to joining HT Legal, Shayna worked as the Media Relations & Marketing Specialist for Meridian International Center, a diplomatic and global leadership institution that strengthens U.S. engagement with the world.
Before returning to grad school, Shayna was the Associate Director for Development at Northwestern Hillel in Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Virginia Tech in Nonprofit Management with a Minor in International Studies and lived in Beijing, China, for two years.
Vanessa Dos Santos, Operations Manager
Vanessa Dos Santos is the Operations Manager for the Human Trafficking Legal Center, where she manages the office’s day-to-day operations, month-end bookkeeping, and employee benefits. She also supports the organization’s events, meetings, communications, and fundraising efforts. Vanessa’s background is in operations and project management, with experience in the areas of international development, program and project management, credit markets, and finance. Prior to working in the nonprofit sector, Vanessa worked as an operational and management consultant to financial institutions for over 12 years.
Vanessa is pursuing an MA in International Development Studies at The George Washington University. She also earned an MBA from the University of Denver and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois with majors in Anthropology and Spanish.