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.
Rosa Bangura provides case management and crisis intervention services for the SAFE Center. She is dedicated to trauma-informed collaboration with survivors. Prior to this position, Ms. Bangura worked as a human trafficking case management coordinator at a local anti-trafficking organization and also gained experience liaising with numerous agencies on issues surrounding child victimization through her position at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Ms. Bangura has previous experience providing crisis support to the military community on the Safe Helpline at the Rape, Abuse & Incest Network (RAINN). She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work at The Catholic University of America. Ms. Bangura is a Credentialed Advocate licensed by the National Organization for Victims Assistance.
Jacqueline Bradley-Chacon, Esq. is an experienced public interest immigrant and refugee rights’ advocate. As the SAFE Center’s immigration attorney, Ms. Bradley-Chacon provides bilingual legal representation for the foreign national human trafficking survivors at the SAFE Center. Before joining the SAFE Center’s team, Ms. Bradley-Chacon served as a staff attorney for Kids in Need of Defense, was instrumental in the launch of the United Methodist Justice for Our Neighbors’ immigration legal service program, and worked in private immigration law practice and as an asylum officer. Ms. Bradley-Chacon has also served as a city council member for her community in University Park, Maryland. Born in El Salvador and raised in the U.S., Ms. Bradley-Chacon is fluent in Spanish and English. She received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, where she was a Public Interest Law Scholar.
Proma Chowdhury is serving at the SAFE Center as the second year Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA member. She will continue the initiative to develop capacity building for the SAFE Center’s economic empowerment and volunteer programs. As an economic empowerment coordinator, she focuses on developing services that support clients in career readiness. As a volunteer program coordinator, she focuses on strengthening community involvement in the SAFE Center’s donation, language, job development, and crisis intervention programs. Ms. Chowdhury graduated in May 2018 from the University of Maryland, College Park with a B.A. in Public Policy and a double minor in Spanish Business and Sustainability.
Rebeca García Gil is an Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow at the SAFE Center. During her two-year fellowship, she will represent survivors of sex and labor trafficking in all immigration matters and in crime victims’ rights advocacy and enforcement, as well as connect survivors with pro bono organizations and low bono attorneys for other legal matters arising from victimization. Ms. García Gil is bilingual and strives to give clients a culturally competent legal representation. She obtained her law degree in 2018 from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the Maryland Journal of International Law and a student attorney at the Immigration Clinic.
Haley Hale, M.A., provides case management and crisis intervention services to survivors of human trafficking at the SAFE Center. She is also actively involved with community outreach and developing partnerships with other local organizations. Ms. Hale gained relevant experience in the anti-human trafficking and victim advocacy fields through her previous positions at Polaris and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Ms. Hale received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Criminology, Law and Society from George Mason University and her Master’s degree in Forensic and Legal Psychology from Marymount University.
Ellie Lewis coordinates all communications projects and services at the SAFE Center. Her responsibilities include managing the SAFE Center’s website, social media, and outreach content; overseeing training and outreach efforts; and also developing written materials for the organization’s annual reports, grant funding proposals, professional speaking engagements, media appearances, and training presentations. Prior to this position, Ms. Lewis served one year as a Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA member developing the SAFE Center’s economic empowerment and volunteer programs. She also worked as a Teaching Assistant for the University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice course on human trafficking. Ms. Lewis received her Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2017, where she graduated with honors and earned the Sandy Mack Honors Award for her senior honors thesis.
Neil Mallon, LCSW-C is a clinical social worker with The Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work and a clinical field instructor and advisor to the University of Maryland SAFE Center. Mr. Mallon has over ten years of clinical and macro social work practice experience within a variety of service settings, including child welfare, mental health, immigration, staff training/development, research and evaluation. In his current role at The Institute, Mr. Mallon works extensively with Maryland’s public and private child welfare providers to support the implementation and integration of a functional assessment tool to support decision making, quality improvement initiatives, and outcomes monitoring for youth and families served by the state’s child welfare systems. He is also the clinical field instructor for social work student interns at the SAFE Center and advisor for case management related policies and practice protocols. Mr. Mallon has assisted in the development of the Center’s trauma-informed and survivor-centered approach to practice and serves as a liaison to the State’s public and private child serving systems to support cross system collaboration in service delivery for domestic minor victims of trafficking. Mr. Mallon earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Towson University and a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Elisabet Martinez, LCSW-C is a clinical social worker and holds over ten years of experience working with survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, child abuse and human trafficking. Ms. Martinez is experienced in solution-focused therapy, cognitive behavioral theory, child-centered play therapy and other treatment modalities. At the SAFE Center, Ms. Martinez provides bilingual individual counseling to survivors. She is also the field instructor for undergraduate and graduate social work students. Ms. Martinez earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Houston and her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of North Texas.
Marciel E. Rojas-Rosario provides case management and crisis intervention services for the SAFE Center. Ms. Rojas-Rosario previously worked at Mount Sinai Health System as an intensive case manager for human trafficking and domestic violence survivors. As part of that position, she also provided case management services in New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court. She has experience as a residential aide for the Center Against Domestic Violence, where she was responsible for coordinating shelter activities for clients and their children. Ms. Rojas Rosario received her Bachelor’s degree in Community Health with a minor in Nonprofit Management from George Mason University.
Monica Altamirano is completing her final year in the Undergraduate Social Work and Psychology programs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Prior to her field placement at the SAFE Center, she volunteered at Eduardo Armenta Pediatrics and Adolescent Clinic. Ms. Altamirano assisted with front desk duties, administrative work, and interacted with patients in the office to schedule appointments, and/or to answer questions or concerns. After the completion of her programs, she plans to join the Air Force and serve active duty as an officer. Her passion is to have a military career and work in the mental health field by dedicating to helping soldiers, veterans, and families. Ms. Altamirano graduated with honors from Montgomery College and earned her A.A. in General Studies and a certificate in Women’s Studies.
Sophie Aron is a second year, macro health, Master of Social Work student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work. Prior to interning at the SAFE Center, Sophie interned with social workers at a DC charter school, served a year of AmeriCorps doing conflict mediation in Montgomery County middle and high schools, and earned her BA in Anthropology from Hamilton College. While at Hamilton, Sophie spent a year abroad in India, Vietnam, South Africa, and Argentina, studying population’s access to public healthcare systems, looking specifically at how that access changes when a country experiences trauma. It was from this experience that Sophie’s interest in affording healthcare to marginalized populations stemmed. At the SAFE Center, she hopes to work in collaboration on a number of macro-level projects including grant writing, legislative advocacy, and strengthening the relationship between the Center and law enforcement.
Nicole Eng is a graduate student pursuing her Master degree in Public Policy at the University of Maryland. Prior to joining the SAFE Center, Ms. Eng lived in the Kyrgyz Republic for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There, her primary projects focused on Youth Development, Women’s Health and Empowerment, and Capacity Building of English Teachers. Ms. Eng received her B.A. in International Security and Conflict Resolution from San Diego State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the International Rescue Committee, The Race Equality Center, and The Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein. Ms. Eng can speak Kyrgyz and Russian.
Claudia Sosa is in her last year of the Master of Social Work program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work. She received a B.S. in Psychology from University of Maryland University College. Prior to her placement at the SAFE center, she interned at Camp Fire, USA where she organized, developed and executed community events and activities for various communities. She worked with property management staff, community partners and residents to build strong relationships to better service the community. Mrs. Sosa is active in her church where she works with adolescents in her church’s youth ministry. Mrs. Sosa is bilingual.
Megan Stump joins the SAFE Center as a Graduate Assistant from the University of Maryland College of Education, where she is pursuing her Ph.D. in the Applied Linguistics and Language Education program. Ms. Stump is developing and teaching an ESOL conversation circle program for SAFE Center clients. Ms. Stump has taught courses at the university level for English learners on writing composition, oral communication and teacher preparation, and peer tutoring for multi-lingual writers. Her research interests include second language teacher education and the emotional dimension of the learning-to-teach experience. Ms. Stump received her M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from Pennsylvania State University; her M.S. in Education, Higher Education, and Student Affairs from Indiana University; and her B.A. in English with a minor in Diversity Studies from Susquehanna University.