2019-20 Douglass Fellows Celebrate with Virtual Finale

By: KELLI L. ROSS

The 2019-20 Douglass Fellows Finale looked slightly different than previous year-end celebrations. Due to COVID-19, this year’s Fellows class marked the end of their fellowship with a virtual event in April. And, while their second semester was altered, their accomplishments were not diminished.

“We recognized the fellows for their contributions over the course of the year, reflected on their achievements, and encouraged them as they prepared to enter the professional world, where I have no doubt many will become leaders in the anti-trafficking movement, said Alyssa Currier, Institute Associate Legal Counsel and Co-Director of the Douglass Fellowship.

During the nine-month fellowship, this year’s Fellows accomplished the following:

  • Published six articles on Trafficking Matters on: corporate governance, Michigan’s criminal record relief provision for survivors, Human Trafficking Courts, Trafficking of children for online exploitation, and how traffickers exploit the “Fiancé visa”
  • Published six case notes summarizing recent federal appellate court decisions in human trafficking cases
  • Reviewed court documents to enter data from 36 criminal and civil human trafficking cases for the 2019 Federal Human Trafficking Report
  • Authored a country assessment report as part of the preliminary considerations for the Institute’s partnership with a new country
  • Created a case law database for the Institute’s Special Counsel in Uganda
  • Provided research assistance to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on: boy trafficking victims, human trafficking cases in Indian Country, state compliance with the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act
  • Worked on a pilot project to collect human trafficking criminal justice metrics in North Carolina
  • Provided research assistance to the McCain Institute on forced labor cases in North Carolina, Georgia, Washington, and Texas

The Class of 2019-20:

  • Zachary Buchanan, Harvard Law School
  • Rachel Geissler, University of North Carolina Law School
  • Gabrielle McKenzie, Stanford Law School
  • Faith Laken, University of Chicago Law School
  • Emmylou Manwill, Boston University School of Law
  • Ashleigh Pelto, University of Michigan Law School

“My fellowship was one of the highlights of my third year of law school,” said Rachel Geissler, University of North Carolina Law School. “It’s easy to feel like you’re spinning your wheels in law school, but my fellowship work gave me a sense of purpose and put my legal skills to real, practical use.”

As a part of the program, each fellow was paired with a mentor. Each pair met approximately six times during the course of the fellowship to discuss the fellows’ work for the Institute, their career aspirations and to offer advice. Mentors also collaborated with Fellows on their research projects and advocacy events.

This year’s mentors were:

  • Kristen Abrams, Senior Director of Combatting Human Trafficking, McCain Institute
  • Bethany Biesenthal, Of Counsel, Jones Day
  • Mary Ellison, Acting Deputy Director, U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons
  • Betsy Hutson, Trial Attorney, Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit of the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Section
  • Meg Roggensack, Senior Advisor, Business and Human Rights, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable and Institute for Business and Human Rights
  • Yiota Saurus, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Due to the impact of COVID-19, only two fellows hosted advocacy events this year.

Ashleigh Pelto hosted a panel discussion at the University of Michigan Law School on the challenging and nuanced issue of legal approaches to prostitution and its intersection with human trafficking, immigration, and other vulnerable populations. Rachel Geissler hosted a discussion at UNC School of Law on the vulnerabilities of agricultural workers in North Carolina and labor trafficking in general.

“My advocacy event focused on labor trafficking issues in my state,” Geissler said. “It was really rewarding to bring together Institute staff, local experts, and classmates of mine to discuss something I really care about.”

The fourth class of Douglass Fellows will begin in August.

“In the first three years of this fellowship, we have had the privilege of meeting and mentoring some of the most remarkable young lawyers, many of whom remain champions of the Institute and personal friends,” Currier said. “As the Douglass Fellow alumni base grows, we are especially excited about the possibility of building a strong network of attorneys who are passionate about addressing trafficking wherever their careers take them.”

“I would tell any law student interested that they should absolutely apply to become a Douglass Fellow,” said Emmylou Manwill, Boston University School of Law. “It’s a unique opportunity to build expertise in a small and complex but cutting edge area of the law. Furthermore, anti-trafficking law encompasses everything from criminal law to civil rights of action to victim rights and post-conviction relief for survivors, making it a great opportunity to investigate one’s own interests within the law.”

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Kelli Ross

Kelli serves as Chief of Staff and Director of Communications at the Human Trafficking Institute. Her background is in journalism, public relations and peacebuilding. Prior to joining the Institute, she was the Communications Officer / Special Assistant to the Executive Director at Lwala Community Alliance in Nashville, Tennessee. She has worked for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations in Washington, D.C., directly supporting the Bureau’s Assistant Secretary; as director of communications for microfinance organization Five Talents in Vienna, Virginia; and as business reporter at The Jackson (TN) Sun. She has worked and studied in Kenya, South Sudan, Liberia, India, Peru, and Israel. Kelli holds a BA in communication arts from Union University and an MS in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.