August 1, 2019

Standing With Victims

Amanda Rodríguez, attorney and anti-trafficking advocate, describes how God led in her life.

Amanda Rodríguez

Amanda Rodríguez is chief counsel for policy and legal advocacy for the SAFE Center at the University of Maryland. SAFE stands for support, advocacy, freedom, and empowerment for survivors of human trafficking. Costin Jordache, communication director and news editor for Adventist Review Ministries, recently talked with Rodríguez about the fight against human trafficking. This article is abridged from their conversation.—Editors.


Tell us about yourself: your life, your profession, your calling.

I am a mother of two (that’s always number one), married to a wonderful husband. I’m an attorney by trade. I work in the anti-trafficking field. I’ve found that it’s what God called me to do. I’ve worked with survivors of many different types on this journey—domestic violence, sexual violence. I finally landed in this area of human trafficking.

Why did you decide to become an attorney?

I was an English major at the University of Maryland, College Park, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was a perfect movie moment: it was raining, I was walking back to my car, I was upset, I was praying because I had no idea what I was going to do with this degree, realizing that I was coming to the end of my college career.

As the rain poured down, these words flowed through my head: Lord, just guide my path.

Suddenly I heard as clear as day: “Go to law school.”

I went straight to my counselor’s office and asked what my options were. She said, “If your GPA is at a certain level, you can use your last year of undergrad as your first year of law school. But you have to take the LSAT.”

I got a high enough score [on the LSAT] to get into law school. . . ; everything fell into place at just the right moment.

Years later, married, in my last year of law school, I thought, Lord, I don’t know what I’m going to do. So I started praying again. I went to a career counselor who said, “The only job available is as a prosecutor in Baltimore County.” I interviewed; and I got the job even before I left the building. “When can you start?” they asked.

I just kept opening myself to whatever God wanted to fill me with. He gave me the strength.

Twenty years ago I was a terrified little teenager. I could not stand in public and speak at all. I thought, I’m going to be a transactional lawyer; I’m going to sit behind a desk. I’m never going to speak in public.

But the Lord kept opening opportunities for me to build confidence, and I ended up as a prosecutor, speaking in court in public every day. It was an amazing journey.

As you studied in law school, what thoughts went through your mind about how you would impact society?

I was very much into myself then. My husband had said to my mother-in-law, “I’m interested in law school; I think this is what I’m going to do.”

She asked him, “How are you going to help others?”

That question lives with me. We [attorneys] get cast as villains in movies. I wanted to make sure I could have an impact on others. As I thought about the law career I had in mind, I wanted to sit in an office that didn’t involve people­­­—that’s how shy I was. But the classes I excelled at were classes that forced me into the world in which I was speaking publicly.

They started an immigration clinic at my law school, and I was the first lawyer to be part of this clinic. I worked with seasoned attorneys. I had an asylum case: a man who was completely defeated because he had lost his asylum, and his daughters were back in his home country being abused and mutilated. I was able to walk him through the process, and it changed me.

I just kept opening myself to whatever God wanted to fill me with. He gave me the strength.

In law school I was very internal. How is this going to affect my life? I should have been asking, “How is this going to affect others?”

Define human trafficking. What does it look like around the world?

At its core human trafficking is the recruitment, the moving, the harboring of individuals either to perform sex acts or to perform service or labor by force, fraud, or coercion.

With human trafficking we see individuals who are vulnerable—for a lot of reasons. Maybe they grew up in poverty, they were abused, maybe they grew up in foster care. Sinister individuals exploit them for their own gain.

We see cases of foreign nationals and domestic survivors. There may be a misconception that it happens only “over there,” that it happens only to those coming into the country. That’s not true. There’s a significant problem here, in Maryland, in the United States, where our domestic or home-grown kids are falling victim to this.

It’s a global issue. In terms of who’s affected by this, the numbers are in the millions. We are just beginning to scrape the surface in terms of how we can address the problem.

Is it getting better or worse?

That’s the million-dollar question. We don’t know. There’s more awareness about it. That always leads to positive things, because we’re thinking about solutions to the problem.

When I started this work 15 years ago, no one was really talking about it. I was the lone voice in my office.

How did your journey lead you to this issue?

I was still in law school. I was taking a business writing class, and the teacher gave us the opportunity to write about anything that involved the buying or selling of goods in the context of law. I was interested in immigration law because my husband is an immigrant. I was into immigration reform, looking at different areas in which it could be expanded.

When I googled “buying and selling,” I came up with “human trafficking.” I wrote a paper, put it on the shelf, didn’t think any more about it.

I was sitting in my office years later as a prosecutor, and my boss put a file on my desk. He said, “We think this is just prostitution; do what you want [with it].”

I looked at it and started to scrape back those onion layers. I realized that it was much more nefarious than that. I had a ton of different types of trafficking cases in my career, but what changed for me was knowing that I could make a difference. Nobody else was looking at it; nobody else was working on it. Over the next five years it just became a niche for me.

There’s a Matthew West song, “Do Something.” Every individual has the capacity to make a difference in this world. I am so blessed that God has given me the opportunity to help bring [trafficking] to an end, put bad guys away, and see survivors walk strong and know that their story is ongoing.

God still works in this world, and He gave me the opportunity to watch the story and be part of it.

An unabridged version of this interview is available at ARTVNow.com.

Amanda Rodríguez
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