New Funding Will Support Survivors of Domestic, Sexual Violence, and Human Trafficking, in collaboration with Mujeres Latinas en Acción in Chicago, to End Commercial Sexual Exploitation/Sex Trafficking and Support Marginalized Communities

 (Chicago, IL) January 28, 2020 — Legal Aid Chicago today announced a $600,000 grant from the NoVo Foundation to support systems-based solutions to commercial sexual exploitation, in partnership with Mujeres Latinas en Acción (MLEA), the longest standing Latina-led, Latina-serving organization in the country. The grant will support The Latinas Empowerment and Advancement Project (Project LEAP), a new endeavor between Legal Aid Chicago and MLEA that is designed to close on-ramps and create exit ramps for immigrant girls and women vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

The funding is a part of The Life Story Grants, a $10 million, three-year investment in survivor-centered programs in the U.S. that open exit ramps from the sex trade while closing on-ramps into it. Project LEAP is among 15 projects awarded funding to address the systemic failures that allow the sex trade to thrive and harm the most marginalized communities, including girls and women of color, as well as trans, LGBTQ, immigrant, and Indigenous girls and women.

“We are thrilled about the creation of Project LEAP and its special focus on Latina immigrant girls and women, and our expanded collaboration with MLEA.” Lisa Palumbo, Director of Immigrants and Workers’ Rights at Legal Aid Chicago, said. “We’re very excited about this new project, and look forward to providing legal, therapeutic, and educational services with our partner, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, to allow girls and women to lead lives free of exploitation.”

After receiving more than 400 letters of inquiry and consulting with a panel of survivor leaders, Legal Aid Chicago was selected based on its targeted approach and its commitment to survivor engagement. Project LEAP will address systemic barriers that impact immigrant girls and women who are most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. It will provide them with consistent and committed support, active participation in goal setting, immigration services, and programs that will help them heal from trauma, consider future employment opportunities, and become leaders in their communities.

Key strategies and initiatives include:

  • Monthly team meetings that include and involve survivor voice in overall project planning;
  • Creating a “vulnerability matrix” to identify individuals’ most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation;
  • Joint outreach about Project Leap to community members.
  • Interagency cross-training and/or in-house training by other experts in the field;
  • Coordinate events for participants to use their leadership skills; and
  • Develop project evaluations involving participant voice, criticism, and inclusion;

“Legal Aid Chicago is greatly committed to providing quality legal services to Chicago’s communities,” says Linda X. Tortolero, President and CEO of Mujeres Latinas en Acción. “We are confident their attorneys will undertake the most vulnerable cases and pursue legal opportunities that survivors need for their safety and wellbeing. That, combined with the trust Mujeres has fostered within the Latino community to address the healing and prevention of sexual exploitation across Chicago, will be life-changing for Latina immigrant survivors.”

Legal Aid Chicago and MLEA connect vulnerable communities with resources, protections, and support, as they encounter racial and social injustices and systematic oppression and exploitation. Illinois ranks 11th in the number of human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.  Legal Aid Chicago and MLEA, through their collective experience, will serve community members who experience the vulnerabilities that come with being drawn into commercial sexual exploitation.

More information about the work underway in Chicago can be found on,, as well as on



Legal Aid Chicago, the lead organization on this proposal, seeks justice for people living in poverty. Through litigation and advocacy, our 150-person team of full-time lawyers and staff fight to secure individual rights to protection from abuse, economic stability, basic healthcare, fair working conditions, and access to affordable and safe housing. It is our vision that poverty will not impede justice. Our goal is for laws and legal systems to be open and equally effective for all who need their protection, especially those who experience unfair and disproportionately unjust treatment due to personal or community characteristics.

Since its inception in 1973, Mujeres Latinas en Acción (MLEA) has seen how systems of oppression can be challenged through community engagement, mobilization, and collective leadership. MLEA has a unique position as a place of healing within the Latina community. Over the past four decades, MLEA has provided support services, counseling, and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through a variety of programs. MLEA’s counselors, therapists, and advocates are trained and ready to help anyone who discloses that they are being exploited or are recovering from trauma related to sexual exploitation.



Legal Aid Chicago

Shannon Jones (She, Her, Hers)

Director of Development and Communications, External Relations


P: 312.347.8370

Mujeres Latinas en Acción

Fanny Cano (She, Her, Hers)

Development and Communications Manager


P: 773.890.7676