November 6, 2017 (San Diego): Survivors of human trafficking have a new resource for resolving legal issues and achieve new personal and professional success with the launch of the charitable non-profit, Free to Thrive. Led by attorney and anti-trafficking activist Jamie Quient, Free to Thrive fills an important niche in the broader battle against human trafficking by, among other things, providing free legal services such as the pursuit of complete removal of past criminal charges to help survivors better secure employment and housing.
“We all have a role to play in the fight against human trafficking,” says Free to Thrive President and Managing Attorney Jamie Quient. “Our goal is to help victims of human trafficking recover from the trauma they endured through their exploitation and support their transition from survivors to thrivers.”
“Free to Thrive has hit the ground running, and is already serving more than twenty human trafficking survivors with a wide range of services,” said Free to Thrive Board Chair Meghan Spieker, the outgoing Co-Chair of the Lawyers Club of San Diego’s Human Trafficking Collaborative. “Jamie’s passion for assisting these brave survivors knows no bounds, and is an inspiration to all of us volunteering to serve on the Free to Thrive board.”
The innovative Free to Thrive Legal Clinic is the first of its kind in San Diego, and is designed to serve as a model for pro bono legal services that could be replicated throughout the United States. The program collaborates with law firms, law students, academics, social service providers, law enforcement, and government agencies to provide free legal services for human trafficking survivors. “One of the things that make our program unique is that we are a mobile legal clinic, operating throughout San Diego county at a number of social service organizations serving human trafficking survivors,” Quient explained. This makes it easier for clients to access legal services and get the justice they deserve. The clinic offers a variety of legal services including child custody and family law matters, civil restraining orders, civil litigation, immigration assistance, minor emancipation, and vacating criminal records.
The ability to vacate a human trafficking victim’s criminal record—a total removal of any traces of charges—has only been available since January 1, 2017, with the implementation of a California vacatur law (Penal Code § 236.14). That law resulted from the advocacy campaign led by the Lawyers Club of San Diego Human Trafficking Collaborative (HTC). While an attorney with Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP and serving on the Lawyers Club of San Diego board of directors, Quient spearheaded the creation of the HTC and was instrumental in HTC’s vacatur advocacy efforts. Quient was inspired to advocate for the creation of this new law by a pro bono client who at 16 years of age had been forced into San Diego’s underground sex industry by an older man she had considered her “boyfriend.”
“What became clear as we in HTC looked more closely at what we could do as lawyers to help was that merely expunging a client’s criminal record wasn’t enough,” Quient says. “Expunged records can still show up in background searches making this remnant of their exploitation a barrier to employment and housing. A survivor of human trafficking has already suffered enough in having been forced to engage in criminal behavior. They need a clean slate if they are to rebuild their lives.”
As part of Free to Thrive’s mission to empower survivor success in all aspects of their lives, the organization has established relationships with a wide range of other nonprofits including those combating human trafficking. This allows Quient and her fellow attorneys to connect clients with services including safe and supportive housing, trauma-specific counseling, medical and dental care, financial literacy, credit repair, and vocational and educational assistance. The ultimate goal is to support survivors as they recover from the trauma they suffered as a result of their exploitation and empower them to improve their physical and mental health, complete their education, obtain gainful employment, and achieve financial independence.
Free to Thrive is actively seeking attorneys licensed to practice in California to provide pro bono services, and also has a Law Student Externship program that allows current law students to aid Free to Thrive attorneys in client legal service. It has also launched a fundraising campaign on Classy, with all donations tax-deductible.
About Free to Thrive
Headquartered in San Diego, California, Free to Thrive empowers survivors of human trafficking to be free from exploitation and to thrive by providing them with legal services and connections to other supportive services. Because serving human trafficking survivors is a team effort, Free to Thrive proudly works with a wide range of nonprofits, government agencies and law firms to best serve the survivor community. Learn more at freetothrivesd.org.