Justice systems have the power to do great harm or tremendous good in their treatment of victims.
During a trial, victims' testimony can be instrumental in helping prosecutors secure a conviction. But until recently, the process of investigating crimes often didn't acknowledge the trauma that victims have experienced. Marie Martinez Israelite '00 is at the front lines of a movement to better respond to victims’ needs, helping transform the criminal justice system’s response to victims of human trafficking.
Back when she was a sociology major at Bucknell, Israelite knew that she wanted a career centered around public service and social change. She got her first chance to make a difference in the anti-trafficking movement when, after completing a master's degree in social work, she accepted a job at the Department of Justice, where she helped create a cutting-edge victim services program for trafficking survivors. From there, she took the helm of the victim assistance section of Homeland Security Investigations, where she was responsible for creating institutional policies that reflected victims' rights, connected them with services, and delivered training to investigators, prosecutors and service providers around the world.
Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that exploits about 25 million people worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization, including through commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. As with other crime victims, they can be important witnesses as prosecutors build a case against suspected traffickers. But in the past, victims' needs were often an afterthought — a problem that Israelite has spent her career working to change.
"Justice systems have the power to do great harm or tremendous good in their treatment of victims," she says. "We need to do everything we can to build trust with them, treat them with respect and dignity, and really make them partners in this process."
Now, as the director of victim services at the Human Trafficking Institute, an organization that helps developing countries build criminal justice systems that respond more effectively to trafficking, Israelite’s role is to ensure that victims' rights and voices are always part of the equation.
Israelite was first exposed to the ways that research and advocacy can create social change when she was an undergraduate at Bucknell. She credits her sociology and psychology professors, with whom she worked on research projects, with guiding her toward a career path that she would find most meaningful.
The classroom experience at Bucknell, meanwhile, prepared her to navigate contentious, high-stakes discussions and decisions. "Communicating effectively and persuasively with others who may have divergent viewpoints and priorities — those skills are so important in my career," she says. "And I learned many of them at Bucknell."