Ambassador Susan G. Esserman founded and leads the SAFE Center. In addition to leading the Center, she is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, a Washington, D.C.- based international law firm, where she heads the firm’s international trade policy practice and has been active in firm management. She leads the firm’s pro bono program on behalf of survivors of human trafficking and has represented numerous human trafficking survivors. She is a distinguished visiting professor with a joint appointment at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and the School of Social Work. She has received numerous awards and recognition, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Justice for Girls Empowerment Award and the National Journal’s Outstanding Women’s Lawyers List, recognizing the 75 most outstanding women lawyers in the nation. Ambassador Esserman held four senior positions in the Clinton administration: She was nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and Assistant Secretary of Commerce. She also served in the role of General Counsel at two agencies – the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce. She has served on a number of nonprofit boards with a women’s rights and international focus. Ambassador Esserman is a graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Michigan Law School.
Laura Ardito has worked on human trafficking issues for over a decade from a direct services, programmatic, and policy perspective. As a senior associate at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, she built her pro bono practice around legal immigration service provision to survivors of human trafficking and other human rights violations. Prior to her work at Steptoe, Ms. Ardito managed the first Anti-Trafficking program, which she also helped initiate, at Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international nonprofit organization focused on women’s leadership. She served as a Legal Fellow at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, focusing on human trafficking laws and policies, and also as an attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Ms. Ardito began her career as an AmeriCorps volunteer coordinating social and legal services for immigrant and refugee families at a Washington D.C.-based transitional housing program. She has recently been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where she taught a class on Women’s International Human Rights. Ms. Ardito is a graduate of Cornell University and American University Washington College of Law.
Heidi Alvarez, M.A., is the Director of Social Services at the SAFE Center. In this capacity Ms. Alvarez oversees the provision of case management services and support to survivors of human trafficking. She believes in having a trauma-informed and holistic service-oriented approach when advocating for and empowering survivors of human trafficking. Prior to joining the SAFE Center, Ms. Alvarez provided social services advocacy for victims of human trafficking, victims of torture, and asylum seekers at Polaris and at the University of Denver. Most recently, she oversaw a staff of social services coordinators at affordable housing properties in Washington, DC where she provided management and programmatic leadership to expand programs and services to residents. Ms. Alvarez has earned a Master’s degree in International Development from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Connecticut College.
Amanda K. Rodriguez, Esq. joined the SAFE Center in July of 2018. As a member of the legal team, she screens clients to address their legal needs holistically and provides representation in the area of victim rights and family law. Her experience as a state and federal prosecutor grant her an expertise to support survivors through the criminal justice process. Mrs. Rodriguez advocates for human trafficking policy nationally and state-wide with a particular focus on child sexual exploitation and labor trafficking. Mrs. Rodriguez is the co-chair of the legislative committee of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, as well as the co-chair of the medical subcommittee and a founding member of the mental health subcommittee. In addition to receiving numerous awards for her work on human trafficking in Maryland, she has written several articles on the international implications of human trafficking – which have been published nationally and internationally. Mrs. Rodriguez completed her graduate degree at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2005 and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore in 2007.