After a little over a year spent leading a pro bono project through the nonprofit Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service to help survivors of human trafficking, Baltimore attorney Laurie Culkin has been appointed the state’s first-ever anti-human trafficking director.
The governor’s office announced Culkin’s appointment today. She’ll be based within the Office of Crime Control and Prevention, and tasked with coordinating support services for survivors and “enforcement activities” against human trafficking, according to a release. Gov. Larry Hogan created the position by executive order in August.
In an interview Tuesday, Culkin said she’s been working with survivors of human trafficking since 2013, when she worked for the Towson-based Women’s Law Center’s Trafficking Victims Post Conviction Advocacy Project. There, she assisted clients with post-conviction motions like expungements, shielding petitions and vacatures.
“It seems like such a foreign issue, but really it hits everybody close to home,” she said of human trafficking. “People are trafficked out of their own homes and their own communities.”
Before taking her previous position at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service in May 2017, Culkin worked for another Baltimore-based pro bono legal nonprofit, Maryland Legal Aid, assisting clients in domestic violence and family law cases. She graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law, where she was a Public Interest Fellow, in 2016.
She said she was excited this summer to see the governor’s office draw attention to the practice of selling humans for forced labor, oftentimes sex. Beyond creating the anti-human trafficking director position, Hogan’s August announcement included a series of initiatives, including devoting $5 million in funding for direct services like emergency shelters, housing assistance, a 24-hour hotline, support groups, therapy, job training, legal help and other assistance for victims, and another $4 million in grants for 13 counties to target gangs and criminal networks that engage in human trafficking.
He also announced $500,000 for the University of Maryland to help set up a “Crime Research and Innovation Center,” which will focus on prevention, law enforcement and criminal justice relating to human trafficking and a pilot project between federal prosecutors, police in Prince George’s County and Baltimore and the state’s Coordination and Analysis Center to collaborate on real-time investigations of human-trafficking networks.
Hogan also said he plans to reintroduce legislation to reclassify felony human trafficking as a violent crime, which would mean more prison time for offenders. A similar bill passed in the Senate but not the House in the last session.
“This type of crime shatters a person’s sense of security,” Hogan said in his office’s announcement this summer. “Much too often it can leave wounds that are often unseen and which sometimes never truly or fully heal.”
A 2016 annual report from the Safe Harbor Workgroup—created by General Assembly vote and signed into law by Hogan one year earlier—said an average of 66 youth were trafficked in the state each year from 2013 through 2016. Most of the cases happened in Baltimore City and County.
Culkin noted how difficult it is to statistically pin down how many people are really being trafficked in Maryland.
“That’s what really puts a fire in my belly,” she said, “is how many people are impacted by this issue, and how communities and those who don’t know about human trafficking, they don’t understand the depth of the issue and how bad it is here at home.”
Last year’s annual report from the workgroup endorsed reducing fines for prostitution-related charges–which could reduce the financial burden on those being trafficked if they’re arrested—and offering immunity to youth charged with prostitution and other charges stemming from them being trafficked, among other recommendations.
This story has been updated.
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