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Raising Awareness: New President Laurel Bellows Puts Human Trafficking on Her Hit List

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Photo of Laurel Bellows at the ABA Annual Meeting by ©Kathy Anderson 2012.

Laurel G. Bellows finds it surprising—and shocking—that human trafficking doesn’t get more recognition as one of the most serious crime problems facing the United States and the rest of the world. But she plans to use her year as ABA president to raise awareness about a practice that some studies suggest is the world’s second greatest crime problem—behind only the illegal drug trade.

“This is modern-day slavery within the borders of our own country,” Bellows says. Every year “we have approximately 100,000 U.S. citizens who are being forced into labor or sex for the profit of their captors.” Meanwhile, she says, human traffickers are bringing “hundreds and hundreds of thousands” of people—children as well as adults—into the country to become part of the sex trade or forced laborers. “We have a scourge that has to be eradicated,” she said, “but it is a silent crime.”

Bellows, who is principal of the Bellows Law Group in Chicago, began her presidential term near the close of the ABA’s 2012 annual meeting in August. A native of Chicago’s North Side who received her JD in 1974 from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Bellows chaired the ABA House of Delegates from 2006 to ’08 and is a past president of the Chicago Bar Association.


The ABA Board of Governors authorized Bellows to create a Task Force on Human Trafficking in the United States that will develop a range of anti-trafficking projects and coordinate efforts with other groups. A primary goal will be to develop better means to identify trafficking victims as a way to help bolster efforts to prosecute traffickers.

According to Bellows, the motives of traffickers are easy to identify. “It’s profit,” she said, along with the resilience of the product. “You can sell a gun once. You can sell a hit of drugs once. But if you bring someone into human trafficking, you can continue to sell them for the rest of their lives.”

During an annual meeting program, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez praised the Illinois Safe Children Act, one of only 10 state laws in the country that target human trafficking. The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws is about a year away from producing a final version of a uniform law on the issue that would be recommended to the states for adoption.

A key provision of the Illinois act seeks to identify women and children pulled into the sex trade as victims rather than perpetrators by decriminalizing prostitution involving minors.

In pursuing an ambitious agenda, Bellows plans to appoint a task force to study legal issues related to national cybersecurity and another on gender equity.

Bellows also will task the ABA Commission on the American Jury Project with addressing the issue of civil trials, whose numbers are dropping in the U.S. One of the causes, she said, is that so many contracts today contain waiver provisions that essentially eliminate the right to trial if disputes arise.

If that trend continues, she asks, “Will we be deprived of the very bedrock of our civil justice system?”

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