Kansas City has been a center of sex trafficking, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report released Wednesday. But the city also happens to be one of the best places in the country to be rescued from human trafficking, almost entirely thanks to one woman.
The U.S. Attorney’s office for western Missouri has a long-standing program to help trafficking victims. And local law firm, Husch Blackwell, recently agreed to donate however many hours it takes to handle all legal issues facing trafficking victims.
Cynthia Cordes launched both initiatives.
Cordes holds the distinction of having prosecuted more human trafficking cases than anyone else, across the entire U.S. Department of Justice, during her tenure as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Kansas City.
Her efforts freed dozens of people held captive and forced into prostitution. But liberty doesn’t solve all their problems, far from it. In addition to emotional and financial recovery, Cordes says these victims face a legal minefield.
Many Legal Obstacles for Trafficking Victims
“It could be anything from immigration issues, if they are an international victim,” says Cordes. “Commercial sex victims, a lot of times, have accrued criminal charges against them for prostitution, sometimes not just in the specific area where they are rescued, but if the trafficker has sold them in different districts in different states, they could have pending criminal charges."
Trafficking victims can face landlord/tenant issues, or custody disputes if they have children.
“Other times they will have an identity theft issue, some of the traffickers take the ID documents of the victims and use it to launder money, or accrue debt or open credit cards,” adds Cordes. “So sometimes they have a credit or financial issue they need assistance with.”
Free Legal Help
Cordes is now leading a human trafficking legal clinic at Husch Blackwell, she says almost 40 lawyers there have agreed to go to bat for defendants, in whatever legal capacity they need — for free. She says the pro bono work helps victims as well as people prosecuting human traffickers.
“By providing the service we assist the investigators and prosecutors,” says Cordes. “Because they don’t have to stop in the middle of their investigation or prosecution and figure out how to make referrals for the victim.”
Cordes says lawyers volunteering on the project would normally bill between $200 and $700 an hour.