Catalyst Magazine
Ambassador Susan G. Esserman, JD, founder and director of the SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors, says, “Human trafficking is a complex, multifaceted issue that must be addressed at the systemic level in a multidisciplinary fashion.” Photo by Matthew D'Agostino

New Home: SAFE Center, an ‘MPower’ Initiative, Becomes Part of Graduate School

The University of Maryland SAFE (Support, Advocacy, Freedom, and Empowerment) Center for Human Trafficking Survivors has a new home.

The comprehensive direct services, research, and advocacy center on human trafficking is now housed within the University of Maryland Graduate School. The mission of the center, which was founded in 2016, is to provide survivor-centered and trauma-informed services that empower trafficking survivors to heal and reclaim their lives, and to prevent trafficking and better serve survivors through research and policy advocacy.

Through in-house support and collaborative partnerships, the center provides bilingual social, legal, mental health, economic empowerment, primary medical, and crisis intervention services to survivors of sex and labor trafficking of all genders, nationalities, and ages.

“The SAFE Center is a prime example of the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s [UMB] mission to improve the human condition and serve the public good through education, research, clinical care, and service — in Maryland and beyond,” said Ambassador Susan G. Esserman, JD, founder and director of the SAFE Center. “Human trafficking is a complex, multifaceted issue that must be addressed at the systemic level in a multidisciplinary fashion.”

The SAFE Center formally partnered with the Graduate School in July 2021.

“The SAFE Center’s mission is closely aligned with the ethos in the Graduate School,” said Jenny Owens, ScD, MS, assistant dean of academic programs and associate professor, Graduate School. “Their work is truly interdisciplinary, and the triple aim of providing direct service, research, and advocacy is an asset to the community, our school, and the UMB community at large. The combination of practice, research, and systems change is a powerful one. We’re thrilled to support this team as they continue to use their fierce intellect and big hearts to be a force for good.” 

‘MPower’ Initiative

The SAFE Center is an initiative of UMB and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) through a formal collaboration for innovation, the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State (MPower). This year marks MPower’s 10th anniversary.

“The SAFE Center has achieved so much by being a part of the MPower collaboration during the nearly six years we have been in operation,” Esserman said. “Because of MPower, the center has been able to work with schools across both universities to provide services to several hundred human trafficking survivors and their family members, launch an innovative economic empowerment program for survivors, advocate for state anti-trafficking legislation, promote state and local efforts to combat labor trafficking, implement trafficking prevention workshops in local international high schools, train over 5,000 professionals on human trafficking, and more.”

The SAFE Center has leveraged the intellectual and clinical expertise of 10 schools at UMB and UMCP to enhance services and research, including the schools of Social Work, Law, Nursing, Dentistry, Public Health, Public Policy, and Business, and the Colleges of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, and Education.

These collaborations include a partnership with the School of Dentistry to provide free dental services to clients, a partnership with the Governor’s Wellmobile to provide free primary health care to clients, and partnerships with the Schools of Law and Social Work for students to complete structured internships at the SAFE Center under the close supervision of attorneys and licensed social workers.

The SAFE Center also has hosted several MPower UM Scholars for summer research projects, including a project focused on the movement against intimate partner violence and how it can inform services for trafficking survivors, and another that explored the role of foreign recruiters in labor trafficking. In addition, SAFE has hosted nearly 100 student interns from across UMB and UMCP.

“Being part of this initiative has also provided SAFE with the opportunity to work directly with talented students as part of MPower’s UM Scholars program,” Esserman noted.

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Mary Therese Phelan

Mary Therese Phelan is a senior media relations specialist in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

CATALYST magazine


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