At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Simpson Thacher associate Caroline Gross for her outstanding commitment to supporting survivors of sex trafficking. Caroline was a key member of the Simpson Thacher team that worked to get Sanctuary’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project off the ground, and has been an incredible advocate for victims of trafficking identified through that Project. Caroline’s enthusiasm, warmth, and language skills have enabled her to gain the trust of women who have faced extreme hardship, and her continuing representation of these clients has made an incredible impact on their lives.
Launching the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts Pro Bono Project
In 2013, the New York State judiciary launched the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs), a pioneering initiative to help survivors of sex trafficking break the cycle of exploitation. Through the HTIC, survivors are connected to legal and social services including counseling, case management, public benefits advocacy, and housing assistance. The guiding principle of the HTICs is that individuals arrested on prostitution charges should not be treated as criminals, but as victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, and screened for human trafficking.
Soon after the HTICs began operating, Sanctuary partnered with several law firms in New York City, including Simpson Thacher, to launch the Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project. Under Sanctuary supervision, pro bono attorneys from these law firms meet at the New York City Family Justice Center in Queens to provide in-depth immigration consultations to the large number of foreign-born defendants who pass through the Queens HTIC each month.
The success of Sanctuary’s HTIC Project in Queens is due in large part to the dedication of pro bono attorneys like Caroline. Since the Project’s inception, Caroline has been a critical advocate and organizer at Simpson Thacher—recruiting and coordinating numerous Simpson Thacher attorneys to participate, generating enthusiasm among her colleagues, and ensuring that the HTIC pro bono clinic in Queens is fully staffed by trained, compassionate pro bono attorneys.
Advocating for all
Caroline has conducted many screening interviews of HTIC defendants over the past two years, often in Spanish (in which she is fluent), and has had multiple clients open up about their experiences—something which is quite difficult to do with traumatized victims of trafficking who are caught up in a criminal justice system they may not understand or trust. Melissa Brennan, the Deputy Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary, added that,
“Of the more than 200 lawyers who volunteer with Sanctuary’s Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Project, Caroline stands out for her unwavering dedication to our work as well as her natural ability to build rapport with clients. Displaying great humility and compassion, Caroline has managed to win the trust of even the most fearful immigrant victims of sex trafficking.”
Securing “T nonimmigrant status”
Caroline’s commitment to assisting trafficking survivors extends well beyond the screenings she conducts through the HTIC Project. Presently, Caroline represents two clients that she identified through HTIC Project screening who are eligible for “T nonimmigrant status,” a form of immigration relief for undocumented survivors of trafficking who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Both clients confided in Caroline about their experiences during their intake interviews, and it became clear to her and Sanctuary that these clients had strong claims for immigration relief. “It’s exciting when you’re doing the intake and can see that there is actually something you can do to help,” said Caroline.
Gender identity and name change
Caroline and others at Simpson Thacher have been working hard to prepare strong applications for both clients, and have assisted them with other legal issues that have come up. For example, when her transgender female client expressed interest in legally changing her name to reflect her gender identity, Caroline quickly agreed to assist.
Vacating fines and criminal charges
She also successfully advocated for the same client when she found out that the client owed a fine of several hundred dollars in connection with a prostitution-related offense in Florida, which was a direct result of her being trafficked. Caroline and her teammate’s advocacy led to the Florida judge waiving the outstanding fine and effectively erasing what had been a major stressor in this client’s life.
For another client from Mexico, Caroline and others at Simpson Thacher have been helping her navigate the process of having her criminal charges dismissed, as well as the process of trying to reunite her with her daughter who lives in Mexico and whom she has not seen in 8 years. For Caroline, being able to reunite this family is an exciting and incredibly rewarding part of her pro bono work.
“Working on pro bono matters with Sanctuary has provided me with opportunities to make a difference in the lives of individuals. I enjoy working with Sanctuary because of their dedication to helping clients in all facets of their lives.”
Caroline particularly enjoys working with victims of trafficking because, “trafficking is such a huge issue facing our world today.” To work on these matters, Caroline says, is to be “reminded of why we wanted to be lawyers—to be involved in helping to change people’s lives for the better.”
Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Simpson Thacher’s outstanding pro bono work.
Jaclyn Neely is a litigation associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. She works on a number of pro bono matters with Sanctuary, including the Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project, and is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.