"Most people who become attorneys start out with a real passion to help people and/or make a difference in their community/world. Along the way, as career paths form and build, that initial passion may get set aside or dimmed and practicing law becomes a grind or “just a job.” ALIGHT’s innovative model makes it easy for attorneys who want to help and make a difference to connect (through an app on their phone) with real, life-changing needs of survivors. I am motivated by the significant impact the connections made through ALIGHT have made in the lives of survivors, the pro bono lawyers, and our community service providers. It has made me proud to be a part of this organization and the work that we do." —Amy Conley
The 1891: What brought you to this work?
Amy: Back in 2017, ALIGHT's executive director, Marianna Kosharovsky, was presenting what ALIGHT was about to launch as a pilot program to a legal department I was part of. I wasn't finished with law school at that time so I couldn't help as a volunteer attorney, but I did need service hours and I loved the concept of using technology in the form of an app to connect attorneys to pro bono opportunities, so I jumped in as the Program Associate to help the launch. Four years later, I'm still involved as the Program grows and expands throughout Colorado as well as to other states.
The 1891: How do you balance your career as a corporate litigator at DISH with the volunteer work that you do at ALIGHT?
Amy: My work with ALIGHT involves recruiting, screening, onboarding training, and follow-up for attorneys and community partners, as well as tracking all of our data points that we use to measure the effectiveness of the program as well as funding opportunities. Going to law school while working full-time and raising 5 kids, among other things, taught me a lot about using pockets of time wisely and effectively. Because my work with ALIGHT is done remotely and is flexible, I am able to work it in around my professional and personal schedule.
The 1891: What is the most difficult aspect and most rewarding part of your work?
Amy: Although it does not happen often, the most difficult aspect of my work is when we are unable to find an attorney to assist a survivor with his/her legal issue. Right now, we are noticing legal deserts where we have been unable to find attorneys in particular areas of Colorado or around the country to assist with tasks that have come in through our community partners or intake advocates. It is hard to give up on our search knowing that the survivor's legal needs will most likely not get addressed if we cannot connect them. On the other hand, it makes us even more determined to focus our recruitment attention on those areas as we grow forward.
Hearing the survivor success stories from our community partners and pro bono attorneys is the most rewarding part of working with ALIGHT. So many lives being dramatically changed for good by the assistance our pro bono attorneys are able to provide to the survivors brings me great satisfaction in being a part of that process.
Studies suggest that anywhere from 70-90% of survivors of sex trafficking have a history of sexual abuse, many experiencing this during their childhood. And while we can easily imagine the connection between sexual violence inherent in the commercial sex industry, often sexual assault and/or harassment of workers in restaurants, home care industries, domestic working situations, agriculture, and factory settings, go largely unrecognized. Through the use of force, fraud, and/or coercion, exploiters compel survivors to engage in forced labor and commercial sex, and the outcome is often sexual violence, sometimes daily. Traffickers have a keen ability to identify vulnerabilities and work skillfully to exploit them.
“As a survivor of sex trafficking myself, as well as a nurse practitioner who provides care to patients who have experienced exploitation, I can tell you that while our stories are not all the same, our vulnerabilities are quite similar.” —Rachel Niemiec, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, Acting Director, ALIGHT
Vulnerabilities such as poverty, substance use disorder, or an early history of trauma that created stories in our minds about our lack of inherent worth do not disappear after exiting trafficking. In fact, often they are exacerbated. These vulnerabilities that created our risk for labor and/or sex trafficking, are often compounded by the legal needs that many survivors have after exiting, making it difficult to lead healthy productive lives once the trafficking has ended.
To help survivors finally escape the trafficking cycle, ALIGHT, an innovative 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has pioneered the use of real-time technology (think: Lyft for pro bono) to rapidly match survivors’ legal needs to a mobilized army of pro bono attorneys. ALIGHT bridges the different worlds of the human trafficking survivors, the legal bar, and the victim services community, so survivors are equipped to achieve justice on their own terms -- whether resolving child custody, criminal records, or identity theft -- and have a path out of the violence and vulnerability that entraps them.
The 1891: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the advising you offer survivors of trafficking?
Amy: Like so many of us, human trafficking victims/survivors experienced profound changes in their lives because of the pandemic. From facing rent issues while the federal eviction moratorium expires to being cut off from their support systems. Unlike many of us, they entered this experience with a profound disadvantage - barriers to employment, unsafe living conditions with abusers, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more. ALIGHT has dug deep to figure out how to meet this unusual moment. While our operations in Colorado have continued uninterrupted thanks to our flexible, technology-based model, we have also seen that survivors from all across the country are hurting deeply at this time. As such, ALIGHT was able to expand its network of attorneys to start helping with out-of-state needs.
The 1891: How does ALIGHT advocate for victims with open criminal cases?
Amy: We connect survivors to free legal expertise across different specializations across civil, criminal and family law to resolve diverse legal issues – the right attorney at the right time.
The 1891: How can CWBA members get involved?
Amy: ALIGHT is always looking for attorneys to join our Program, specifically in the family, criminal, and civil law areas. To get more information about ALIGHT and how you can be part of the solution, review our Call for Pro Bono Attorneys, visit our Website, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you suspect someone is being trafficked for sex or labor, call federal law enforcement directly to report suspected human trafficking activity and get help: U.S. Department of Homeland Security at 1-866-347-2423 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, or submit a tip online at www.ice.gov/tips . You may also submit a tip online to the FBI at https://tips.fbi.gov/ , or call your local FBI office (you can get their number at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/field-offices).
Amy Conley, J.D.
Program Associate, ALIGHT
Amy has worked in the Denver legal field for over 20 years. She has a bachelor's degree in English, graduated from the Sturm College of Law - University of Denver in December 2017, and began working as in-house litigation counsel for DISH Network shortly thereafter. She began volunteering with ALIGHT in 2017 as they launched their pilot program and has continued to assist with the expansion of the program and managing the process of onboarding and supporting the survivors, community partners, and pro bono attorneys.
Rachel Niemiec, MSN, RN, FNP-BC
Acting Director, ALIGHT
Rachel is a Pediatric & Adult/Adolescent Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in addition to being ALIGHT’s current Acting Director as well as a member of their Survivor Advisory Council. She has a master’s degree in nursing, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner. She has over 16 years of experience working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence and as a survivor of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), she is committed to helping service providers respond compassionately to the needs of survivors.