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. Vandenberg established the Human Trafficking Legal Center (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 the Human Trafficking Legal Center, 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.

Sarah L. Bessell, Deputy Director

Sarah L. Bessell is the Deputy Director at the Human Trafficking Legal Center, where she provides training and technical assistance for immigration and civil human trafficking 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, persons with disabilities, and domestic violence. Bessell manages the Human Trafficking Legal Center’s international strategic litigation program. 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.

Anasuya Syam, Human Rights and Trade Policy Advisor

Anasuya Syam is the Human Rights and Trade Policy Advisor at the Human Trafficking Legal Center. She leads the Human Trafficking Legal Center’s initiative on the U.S. Tariff Act and forced labor, with a focus on conducting investigations and submitting petitions under the Tariff Act. She works with pro bono counsel, civil society groups, government, business and other stakeholders to push for greater accountability through the enforcement of the Tariff Act import prohibition. Syam is the co-author of a practice guide titled  Importing Freedom: Using the US Tariff Act to Combat Forced Labor in Supply Chains, which provides advocates with the nuts and bolts on using U.S. Tariff Act to halt goods made using forced labor from entering the United States. The guide has been translated into four languages. Syam has also published multiple op-eds and articles on the U.S. Tariff act and forced labor. She chairs an advisory group of NGOs working to enhance the impact of the Tariff Act in addressing forced labor.

Syam graduated with a Masters (LLM) in International Law from NYU School of Law. Prior to the Human Trafficking Legal Center, she worked as a legal fellow at the World Bank with a focus on anti-corruption and corporate governance. Syam also previously worked as a Corporate Counsel in India. She received her Bachelors in law (B.A. LL.B. Hons.) from the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, India.

Roxie Farrow, Operations Manager

Roxie Farrow is the Operations Manager for the Human Trafficking Legal Center. Farrow graduated with a Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2015.

Farrow is the co-chair of The Maryland Survivor Network, a membership group providing support, professional, and leadership development for human trafficking survivors participating in anti-trafficking efforts in the state.

Farrow is also a Survivor Leader Consultant for the University of Maryland Support, Advocacy, Freedom, and Empowerment (SAFE) Center for Human Trafficking Survivors’, serving on the Human Trafficking Clinicians Collaborative and the Human Trafficking Survivors’ Council.

Prior to joining the Human Trafficking Legal Center, Farrow worked as Senior Admissions Coordinator & Manager for Psychiatric Institute of Washington, a behavioral health treatment facility in Washington D.C.  Before embarking on her graduate studies, Farrow founded The Exodus Project, a human trafficking advocacy and awareness organization that focuses on educating community leaders and youth in the D.C. metro area. Farrow received her Bachelor of Science from Trinity Washington University in Psychology with a Minor in Arabic Literature.

Shayna Horwitz, Development and Communications Director

Shayna Horwitz is the Development and Communications Director for the Human Trafficking Legal Center. Horwitz graduated with a Masters in Global Communication from The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University in 2019. Prior to joining the Human Trafficking Legal Center, Horwitz 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. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Survivor Alliance and Hillel at Virginia Tech.

Before returning to grad school, Horwitz was the Associate Director for Development at Northwestern Hillel in Chicago. Prior to her role at Northwestern Hillel, Horwitz lived in Beijing, China for two years working for Operation Smile and the Institute for the International Education for Students (IES Abroad). She received her Bachelor of Arts in Nonprofit Management and a Minor in International Studies from Virginia Tech.

Fainess Lipenga, Training Advisor

Fainess Lipenga has been an active member of the National Survivor Network since 2013. As a survivor of labor trafficking, she uses her voice and experience to educate the community and raise awareness. Her mission is to prevent other survivors from being re-victimized and to give them hope and courage to heal, become leaders, and achieve their dreams. Prior to her role as Training Advisor, Ms. Lipenga served as a consultant to the Human Trafficking Legal Center for more than five years.

Ms. Lipenga has testified before the U.S. Congress regarding the challenges survivors face. She has presented to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. She has provided training for pro bono lawyers, law students, physicians, law enforcement officials, and federal prosecutors.  She has spoken at national conferences and developed expert training materials. In 2019, Ms. Lipenga testified before the Maryland General Assembly to advocate for the passage of the Anti-Exploitation Act. With the help of her testimony, Maryland passed the bill, making labor trafficking an illegal act for the first time in Maryland.

Ms. Lipenga is the recipient of the Justice for Victims of Crime Award from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Washington, D.C.  She believes survivor voices and leadership are essential to advocacy on human trafficking.

Bekah Carey, Legal Fellow

Bekah Carey is a Legal Fellow at the Human Trafficking Legal Center, where she is researching use of the CEDAW Optional Protocol to hold states accountable for failure to protect trafficking victims’ human rights.  Carey is pursuing her J.D. at Harvard Law School. At Harvard, Carey has worked with the student practice organization “Advocates for Human Rights” on a project examining how international bodies can be better used to combat human trafficking.

Prior to attending law school, Carey worked with the United States’ Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia on their asset forfeiture team and, in college, spent a semester interning with the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. Carey received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Criminal Justice from Roanoke College in 2018.

Madina Qasimi, Legal Fellow

Madina Qasimi is a human rights lawyer and career diplomat. Ms. Qasimi has held many leadership positions at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC. She was the Minister Counselor/Deputy Chief of Mission and Consul. Prior to her appointment to this position, she was the Chief of Staff to the First lady of Afghanistan from July 2016 to October 2017. Previously, she served as First Secretary at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC, from June 2013 to June 2016.

Ms. Qasimi is also a women’s rights and human rights activist for 29 years. Ms. Qasimi was recognized by the Women Foreign Policy group in 2019 (Guide to Women Leaders in International Affairs) and currently serves on Meridian International Center’s Rising Leaders Council in Washington, DC.

Ms. Qasimi has a bachelor’s degree in Law and Political Science from Kabul University and a master’s degree in Law and International Legal Studies with two specializations, International Human Rights Law as well as Gender and Law, from the American University Washington College of Law. In addition to her role at the Human Trafficking Legal Center, Ms. Qasimi is also currently a Visiting Scholar at the American University Washington College of Law.

Rowan Hong, Summer 2021 Legal Fellow

Rowan Hong is a Legal Fellow at the Human Trafficking Legal Center, where she supports the International Strategic Litigation program. Hong is a rising 2L at Harvard Law School. Prior to attending law school, she developed awareness-raising campaigns and collaborated with Los Angeles-based human trafficking non-profits as co-president of L.A. Stop the Traffik. Hong has volunteered with organizations from San Diego to Seattle assisting survivors of sex trafficking, domestic violence, and youth homelessness. In her time at UCLA, Hong was a Volunteer Center Fellow, research assistant, and intern for the Student Activist Project. Hong graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from UCLA in 2019.

Rachel Kennedy, Summer 2021 Legal Fellow

Rachel Kennedy is a Legal Fellow at the Human Trafficking Legal Center. Kennedy is pursuing her J.D. at Emory University School of Law as a Woodruff Fellow. At Emory, Kennedy serves on the executive board of the Emory Public Interest Committee and volunteers with the Partnership Against Domestic Violence, the Emory Immigrant Legal Assistance Clinic, and the International Refugee Assistance Project.

Prior to attending law school, Kennedy spent a year working for International Justice Mission in La Paz, Bolivia, where she coordinated trauma-informed care trainings and assisted with the publication of a ten-year study analyzing procedural barriers in cases involving sexual violence against children. After leaving Bolivia, Kennedy spent two years as a management consultant in Dallas, Texas, where she volunteered with the Human Rights Initiative and served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. Kennedy received her Bachelor of Science from Vanderbilt University in Spanish and Human and Organizational Development.

Lena Levette, Summer 2021 Communications Intern

Lena Levette is a Communications Intern at the Human Trafficking Legal Center. Levette is currently in her third year of pursuing her undergraduate degree in Strategic, Legal, and Management Communications at Howard University with a concentration in Public Relations. At Howard, Levette is very active with organizations that focus on political and socio-economic advancement within minority communities and groups that also focus on helping first-generation female students matriculate through college. Previously, Levette worked with the Atlanta Bar Association where she interned with the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office in their Victims-Witness Assistance Program, and later became certified in Victim Advocacy. She has also interned with Montage PR, which is known for planning and launching high-profile Marketing Campaigns. Lastly, Levette is a Boyd Initiative Scholar which is a program that teaches the fundamentals of media, marketing, and advertising under professionals at dozens of the world’s top leading ad agencies.

Alexandra Levy Yelderman, Of Counsel

Alexandra Yelderman serves as special counsel to the Human Trafficking Legal Center. Formerly the Center’s Senior Staff Attorney, Yelderman has spent the past decade directing data research and developing seminal resources for attorneys and advocates handling human trafficking cases. She is the author of several reports on federal civil human trafficking litigation, victim mistreatment in human trafficking prosecutions, and criminal restitution.  She authored or co-authored the following reports published by the Human Trafficking Legal Center: Prosecution at Any Cost? The Impact of Material Witness Warrants in Federal Human Trafficking Cases; Federal Human Trafficking Civil Litigation: 15 Years of the Private Right of Action; Human Trafficking and Forced Labor in For-Profit Detention Facilities: Strategic Litigation in U.S. Federal Courts; United States Federal Courts’ Continuing Failure to Order Mandatory Criminal Restitution for Human Trafficking Victims, and When “Mandatory” Does Not Mean Mandatory: Failure to Obtain Criminal Restitution in Federal Prosecution of Human Trafficking Cases in the United States. Yelderman has published widely in the human trafficking field, including an op-ed in the Washington Post on forced labor in private immigration detention centers.

Yelderman serves as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Notre Dame Law School, where her scholarly research focuses on illicit commerce on the internet. She graduated cum laude from New York University with a B.A. in religious studies and a minor in mathematics and received a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.