MSU Law alumna helps victims, survivors of human trafficking

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Sarah Warpinski Ladd headed to law school with the sole purpose of advocating for victims of human trafficking.

“Honestly, I did not go to law school because I always wanted to be a lawyer—rather, I wanted to gain the legal tools to speak up for victims and survivors,” she says. “Human trafficking happens in every community in every country around the world. I have advocated for survivors of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking in communities with populations as small as 253 people and as large as New York City.”

If there is one message Ladd could share about human trafficking survivors, it is this: “trafficking survivors are among us, and the most important things we can do—as advocates, community members, and global citizens—is recognize them and treat them with dignity.”

During her studies at Michigan State University College of Law, Ladd focused on immigration law, human rights, and criminal law.

“In all of my classes and activities, I tried to draw connections to human trafficking and exploitation,” she says. “I loved the supportive community at MSU Law
—engaging professors, friendly students and staff, great student organizations, and a wide variety of clinics. I’m also very grateful to MSU Law for giving me a full tuition scholarship—that truly made my public interest career possible.”

Ladd founded the student organization Modern Abolitionist Legal Society (now renamed ATLAS), which sought to raise awareness and increase involvement between legal professionals and the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force; and was on the International Law Review, where she published a student note on gender-based violence and human trafficking in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
A student attorney at the Immigration Law Clinic for two semesters, she also worked as a teaching assistant for three semesters with the LLM program for foreign-educated lawyers.

In the summer of 2011, she interned with International Justice Mission in La Paz, Bolivia, funded by a scholarship from The Women Lawyer’s Association of Michigan and the Public Interest Law Society at MSU Law. The following summer, she interned in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division Office for Immigration Litigation-District Court Section through the SLIP program.

“I loved my experience at DOJ so much, I returned for the D.C. Semester program and interned for the Criminal Division Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section,” she says. “The fast-paced and meaningful work engaged my mind and my heart, and helped me to understand the role the federal government plays in protecting victims and survivors.”

With the support of Professor David Thronson, the 2013 graduate became the first of three MSU Law Skadden Fellows over the next five years.
“Starting the Human Trafficking Protection Project at Legal Aid of Western Ohio through my Skadden Fellowship has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life,” she says. “The collaborative partners—human trafficking coalitions, universities, service providers, law enforcement, community members, and many more—were both the highlight of my work and the path to success as we walked alongside of human trafficking survivors.”

After completing her fellowship, Ladd obtained a Skadden Fellowship Writing Stipend in part, to join The Advocates for Human Rights in writing a report on labor trafficking and exploitation; and subsequently obtained a Flom Incubator Grant from the Skadden Fellowship Foundation to launch the Trafficking Integration Initiative at this Minneapolis-based organization.

“I came to The Advocates for Human Rights because it is one of the only organizations I’ve ever encountered that truly implements international human rights standards at every level—global, national, state, and local,” she says. “This human rights-based approach to human trafficking really resonated with me, whether applying it to local immigration representation, research and writing, training, or applying it through policy work or report writing at the state, federal, or international level.”

Ladd spent a year as executive director at Light of Hope Kenya in Minneapolis, creating a U.S. headquarters for a school in Naivasha, Kenya.

“This was one of the most difficult positions I’ve held, but I did learn a great deal about the inner workings of non-profit management,” she says. “I enjoyed educating donors and supporters about the importance of education and safe housing for orphaned, abused, and exploited girls.”

An adjunct professor at the University of Toledo, Ladd teaches an online course, Human Trafficking & the Law.

“I love teaching, whether online or in person,” she says. “The best part is that moment when the light bulb goes on for a student and he or she begins advocating for the issues you have helped them understand. One day I would love to be a professor, perhaps running a law school clinic or interdisciplinary institute focused on human trafficking and human rights.” 

Ladd currently is serving as editor and project manager for an agency that is editing the Annual Results Reports for UNICEF; is in the process of publishing an academic article on trauma-informed practices for accompanying human trafficking survivors; and also trains and consults with organizations on how to more effectively work with trafficking survivors.

She plans to continue a career with a dual focus: increasing knowledge of human trafficking and improving services through research, education, and protocols; and advocating for survivors of human trafficking and other human rights abuses, with a particular focus on foreign-born populations.

Passionate about travel and fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Ladd has spent a considerable amount of time living and working overseas, in Bolivia, Guatemala, Mozambique, Malawi, Liberia, Brazil and Honduras. The Green Bay native now lives in Saint Paul, Minn., where she and her husband, who are in the process of adopting through the local foster care system, share their home with two “very entertaining” new cats—Sir Gawain and Esperanza.

Involved in the local anti-trafficking movement and in her local church, Ladd also mentors college students, and serves at several non-profits. A pro bono
attorney, she is currently representing a human trafficking survivor through The Advocates for Human Rights.

In her leisure time, she loves reading, and spending time outdoors with her family.

“In the summer, you can find me gardening or taking a walk nearly every evening,” she says. “We also recently bought our first home, and I just returned from a missions trip in Guatemala—it has been an exciting season in life!”

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