ALIGHT: Mobilizing Justice (2024)

Our Organization

ALIGHT (Alliance to Lead Impact in Global Human Trafficking)

What is the name of your solution?

ALIGHT: Mobilizing Justice

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

ALIGHT matches trafficking survivors to vetted US attorneys providing free, specialized and comprehensive legal services to support their recovery.

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Denver, CO, USA

In what country is your solution team headquartered?

  • United States

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

What specific problem are you solving?

Human traffickers often target vulnerable, economically stressed individuals for severe exploitation (US Department of Justice, 2024). They promise security to runaway teens, manipulate single moms into commercial sex and offer false recruitment terms to day laborers desperate to provide for their families. They expertly abuse the legal system and take advantage of their victims. They steal their victims’ identity documents, take out loans in their victims’ name and pursue child custody of shared children through the courts.

Even after escaping, survivors continue to be impacted by their trafficking experience. Legal problems like debt, identity theft and arrests from forced criminality continue to bar their path forward. According to the 2016 National Survivor Network Survey, 90.8% of survivors reported being arrested. Of those individuals, 80% reported barriers to employment resulting from the criminalization. Without a way to clear criminal records, or resolve other issues like identity theft and child custody, survivors risk homelessness and being re-trafficked. Survivors need attorneys to sustain their exit.

Despite this clear need, there is a scarcity of specialized help; survivors and advocates struggle to reach qualified attorneys. Findings from The Legal Deserts Report, based on work of a survivor-led research team conducting outreach to 550 organizations in the US that advertised their legal services to survivors, show that only 3% (or 16 organizations) could be confirmed as providing services focused on this population (National Survivor Law Collective, 2021). The few available resources tend to be concentrated in urban areas and are limited in legal specialization, further reducing services for survivors who may have multiple legal issues across many jurisdictions. The report further identified lack of trauma-informed attorneys as a challenge for survivors who are at risk of re-traumatization and many of whom already suffer from past mistreatment by the legal system, such as criminalization when they are in fact forced to commit crimes for the benefit of their abuser.

Together, these findings paint a picture of a country where many may assume legal services are covered when hundreds of organizations claim to do so. However, in the experience of survivors, the type of legal help that they need that reflects their reality is sorely missing. Instead of a pool of trauma-informed attorneys providing a range of legal services across various jurisdictions, the US has a “legal desert.”

What is your solution?

To support survivors, ALIGHT enables their access to a network of vetted, specialized and trauma-informed attorneys through their professional advocates who are assisting with their other needs. ALIGHT’s solution creates this access through a fast, safe and survivor-centric model that bridges the gap between survivors with legal problems (the “demand”) and the attorneys qualified and available to help (the “supply”) when needed. ALIGHT uses a mobile application, the 4Bells app (similar to Lyft), that creates a marketplace where demand and supply meet. This platform enables survivors to seek help from attorneys in over 20 legal specializations who respond if they are available to assist pro bono. Survivors who are receiving case management, housing and other services have an advocate enter their legal requests in the app with the appropriate information and level of screening for personally identifiable data (PID), which then notifies attorneys in law firm pro bono programs and private practices with matching skill sets and geographic coverage, of their need in real-time.

To support the ethical considerations discussed below, the solution is designed for three personas (the survivors, advocates and attorneys) but only two personas utilize the mobile application directly: the users (the advocates and attorneys).

The survivors and their advocates are incentivized to participate because their cognitive load for finding and securing the appropriate legal services is significantly reduced. Instead of expending significant effort to find an attorney willing to help amidst a “legal desert” - or forgoing legal remedies altogether - they are provided with access to a network of qualified attorneys. To participate, the survivor must be in a place of their healing journey where they are assessed by their advocate as being ready to work on their legal problems. All eligible survivors can utilize our legal network, regardless of what organization they are working with at the time. We welcome individuals of all gender identities, nationalities, sexual orientations and ages. This approach strengthens the various shelter, case management and victim services activities that already exist in communities by adding the missing piece: legal services.

This solution provides attorneys with an opportunity to fulfill their pro bono aspirations (that are requirements at some firms) and upskill on trauma-informed lawyering. The attorneys are incentivized to participate because, through membership in ALIGHT’s model, they are provided with a structured pro bono program that delivers targeted and discrete pro bono requests on behalf of pre-screened survivors straight to their phones.

Directly responding to the lack of legal services, to date, ALIGHT has provided over 280 unique survivors with legal services on over 590 cases. Of these, 135 were criminal record relief cases, representing ALIGHT’s top area of service and a significant concern for survivors as indicated by the data. While ALIGHT started with Colorado cases, the prevalence of multi-jurisdictional highlights the urgency to scale this solution beyond a focus on Colorado for truly comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional support.

How are you ensuring ethical and responsible use of technology in your work, especially if you’re utilizing AI? How are you addressing or mitigating potential risks in your solution?

Since 2016, ALIGHT has been working with its technology vendor, Caravan Studios (a division of TechSoup), to adapt its existing custom technology for crisis response volunteer management to legal services delivery for human trafficking survivors. The app platform was designed for security and privacy, and the app engineering team conducts ongoing reviews of risks and vulnerabilities. Secure authentication is required in order to use the app, with a role-based access mechanism providing additional security controls. A clear privacy policy can be accessed directly in the app. The app only collects necessary data for operation and all data is encrypted both in transit and at rest. The app platform is hosted in a secure cloud environment with best-in-class security and privacy controls and compliance. Caravan Studios thoroughly vet all 3rd party services and ensure that they also comply with data protection and security standards and best practices. Users may request access or deletion of their account data at any time.

To further ensure the safety and privacy of the individuals served, this solution is designed with survivor design input, ongoing survivor feedback and annual user feedback. Recognizing that a passive technology product cannot “solve” the complex problem of delivering services to human trafficking survivors, ALIGHT has layered on the real-world programmatic support to anonymize, moderate and mediate app activity on top of Caravan Studios’ implemented industry-standard security practices.

1) Anonymization: All survivor PID is removed from requests and external communications, with a case number generated for each legal request as the reference. Other survivor data needed for reporting purposes is collected by advocates using appropriate consents, aggregated and anonymized for public sources.

2) Moderation: ALIGHT uses a closed environment that is invitation-only to prevent the participation of inappropriate users. The advocates posting requests on behalf of the survivors and the attorneys claiming the requests are vetted (attorneys are submitted to background checks), required to sign memorandums of understanding and trained on app use as part of their onboarding.

3) Mediation: To address concerns that survivors’ may be unwittingly exposing themselves to further danger by revealing sensitive information, all survivor requests are mediated by professionals. Advocates screen survivors for eligibility, identify their legal issues, post the request summaries on the app and then transmit the customized instructions for reaching out to lawyers to facilitate a warm connection appropriate to the lawyers’ own institutional processes.

Users install the mobile app on devices that are compliant with their respective organizational policies, with desktop access also available. Each user sets up a unique account and requires unique password credentials to participate.

ALIGHT’s programming that compliments the technology solution provides attorneys with ongoing support once the legal cases transition from the virtual world of the app into the real-world of legal representation through ongoing technical support and case monitoring. We provide ongoing support where there are challenges with the representation, additional legal issues arise and at the conclusion of the case for the survivor to assess their experience.

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

ALIGHT has been able to operate this solution on a limited geographic scale since 2017. Historically, ALIGHT’s inclusive eligibility process has enabled us to serve a broad diversity of survivors in terms of type of trafficking, gender and race. Further, we reach individuals who tend to experience poly-victimization in terms of intersections with homelessness, foster care and domestic violence.

Based on survivors served by ALIGHT in 2023 who voluntarily disclosed, the majority experienced sex trafficking, with 29% experiencing labor trafficking in some form. While anyone can be affected, the populations targeted by traffickers tend to represent a higher percentage of underserved and marginalized groups than the broader community and individuals are often marginalized in multiple, overlapping ways. Reflecting those vulnerable in society, 80% of survivors had experienced homelessness, 91% had experienced domestic violence and 24% had experience in the foster care system. Of those served, 49% were first trafficked as minors, 47.1% were people of color, 88% were women, 5% were non-binary and 2% were transgender. All survivors served by ALIGHT are in financial need of free legal help.

The solution positively impacts survivors both by providing them with tangible benefits in support of their recovery and by providing access to a marginalized and economically-stressed population. On average, each survivor has received $7,500 in legal value and legal support on numerous matters (each survivor has an average of 2 legal needs). ALIGHT pursues diversity and is able to achieve the results shared in the 2023 snapshot through a survivor-centric and inclusive solution that addresses existing barriers to survivors and their advocates’ ability to access qualified legal services.

Through advocate mediation when screening survivors and posting requests, and ALIGHT’s moderation when monitoring and supporting matches in the real world, ALIGHT eliminates the requirement that survivors appear in-person for screening and consultations. This common practice in traditional victim services models excludes survivors for whom transportation and childcare are prohibitive expenses. ALIGHT also focuses on strong collaborations with the survivor community through the ALIGHT Survivor Advisory Council, the Polaris Survivor Resilience Fund and others to broadly disseminate information. ALIGHT also expands access by conducting outreach to a broad range of anti-trafficking actors, including victims’ services organizations, prosecutors, domestic violence agencies, worker’s rights groups and other community-based organizations.

With the tech improvements and process enhancements supported by this grant, ALIGHT plans to expand the solution beyond Colorado to one neighboring jurisdiction (Utah) and one high-need trafficking region (Los Angeles/Southern California). ALIGHT expects to continue to serve the broad variety of victim profiles discussed above during this next stage of growth.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

ALIGHT’s team lead, Marianna Kosharovsky, has a longstanding career in anti-trafficking legal services, positioning her as a national leader on the issue. As a Ukrainian refugee from the Soviet Union, she first worked on “Russian mail order bride”cases as a pro bono attorney herself. Through her law firm’s fellowship, she was placed with the domestic violence agency Sanctuary for Families in New York in 2008 and learned firsthand of the value of comprehensive services, as well as of the existing gaps in legal services, particularly in areas outside of immigration law. Other important lessons flowed from this initial experience, such as the realization that the majority of human trafficking in the United States was domestic trafficking (both sex and labor) as exploitation is mainly a function of poverty and vulnerability.

She then honed her expertise in engaging other lawyers in impactful pro bono work in Russia between 2011-2013 with PILnet: The Global Network for Public Interest Law. This fieldwork directly informed ALIGHT of the limitations of current models, such as passive platforms, cumbersome portals and email listservs, inspiring the investment into more flexible and impactful solutions that leverage mobile technology. In 2020, she co-founded the National Survivor Law Collective with five other legal experts similarly concerned with the lack of legal services for survivors and was invited to present nationally on the topic, most recently at the 2024 Pro Bono Institute Conference.

In addition to the founder’s direct experience with the legal dimension of survivors' unmet needs, the organization is also defined by its strong collaborations and championing of survivor voices on the way forward. In 2020 ALIGHT formed a Survivor Advisory Council, composed of survivor leaders who provide review of and input to ALIGHT’s programming. One Survivor Leader has served on the Board of Directors since 2021. Organizational recruitment efforts continually seek survivor leadership. Through their lived experience and, at times, direct participation as beneficiaries of the program, Survivor Leaders on the Survivor Advisory Council have contributed to improved intake and follow-up processes, including the trauma-sensitivity training for attorneys.

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Bettering existing resources for legal, financial, physical, psychological, and social well-being

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 3. Good Health and Well-Being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth

Why are you applying to the Challenge?

ALIGHT seeks support to scale our solution to enable broader geographic coverage and higher volume of survivor requests while maintaining quality. Supporting a larger and more geographically-diverse legal network on the mobile app will benefit survivors and their advocates with access to more services that are currently missing.

These two scaling objectives face a number of financial barriers. Quality control and continuous improvement requires hiring staff with the requisite technical expertise to design, test and refine technology processes and features to accommodate the complexity. ALIGHT seeks funds to expand its team to support the below processes. Any identified software changes to the app itself, such as the integration of app-based prompts, will be financed through joint fundraising efforts with Caravan Studios.

Processes that specifically require redesign and research into enhancements through AI and other efficiency tools include the following:

1) Survivor intake/case description training for advocate users: Advocates regularly require retraining and re-onboarding due to turnover and request ALIGHT assistance with translating the survivor’s information into legal issue summaries that are understandable to lawyers (without disclosing the PID) before posting on the app.

2) Training for attorney users: Currently, all of the attorneys are primarily practicing law with corporate and other private clients. Our solution needs to be scalable and provide individualized training to serve survivors.

3) Case monitoring: All users provide case status updates through surveys that are individually emailed and tracked by ALIGHT staff, but are becoming unmanageable as the number of cases grow.

ALIGHT plans to research, design and implement more streamlined processes that leverage AI and would welcome the Challenge’s support. For the first process, advocate training, ALIGHT will leverage AI and automated prompts to enhance advocates’ ability to compose legal case summaries that include information relevant for attorneys. For the second process, ALIGHT will design and test attorney training modules that allow attorneys to engage in a simulation with an AI-survivor assistant to practice their skills prior to the legal match.

For the third process, ALIGHT will implement automated systems for monitoring case status that integrate with the current platform, send automated reminders to users who have not filled out their surveys and notify ALIGHT staff of instances where users have repeatedly failed to provide their updates.

The current version of the app also requires feature enhancement to facilitate the participation of attorneys in other states.Administration-level capability also needs to be built into the current platform to better collect the case data points and integrate with other processes, such as the case monitoring discussed above.

With increased funding, visibility and support, ALIGHT welcomes the opportunity to expand our mission, better use technology and help build a system that can provide the underlying infrastructure to support survivors of all forms of human trafficking. Most importantly, however, our model seeks to strengthen existing anti-trafficking service ecosystems. This requires collaboration and conversation with other organizations. The Challenge will give us an invaluable opportunity to increase our network and partnerships on a global stage.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business Model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Financial (e.g. accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. delivery, logistics, expanding client base)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Marianna Kosharovsky

ALIGHT: Mobilizing Justice (2024)
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