Spotlight on Commencement: A Victim’s Advocate

Fulbright Scholar and Public Interest Scholar John Rafferty VLS ’12 advocates for victims of human trafficking around the world

John Rafferty VLS '12

As a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, John Rafferty VLS ’12 witnessed first-hand the stark realities of human trafficking. From the sexual exploitation of women in southeast Asia to the debt bondage of foreign laborers in the Middle East, Rafferty was incensed by what he saw. Instead of turning a blind eye, his experiences served as catalyst for his life’s work -- becoming an attorney who could be a voice for those who had none.

“I came to law school because of my frustration with a broken system that makes foreign workers employed in low-wage sectors vulnerable to force, fraud and coercion,” said Rafferty.

Following Commencement, Rafferty will travel to Quito, Ecuador, as a Fulbright Scholar to work with the International Organization of Migration (IOM), an organization with which he volunteered in 2011. In Ecuador, Rafferty will partner with government agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) to spread awareness and understanding of Ecuador’s human trafficking policies and laws as well as the challenges facing the prosecution of such crimes.

While still a student, Rafferty devoted his time and legal talents to anti-trafficking advocacy and training in the Philadelphia-region, United States and around the world. In addition to his work with the U.N. International Organization for Migration’s Counter-Human Trafficking Team, highlights of his numerous outreach efforts include leadership of a VLS spring break service trip to provide legal aid to central Florida farm workers and work with the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition to start a Prostitution First Offender Diversionary Program. Rafferty also successfully argued for political asylum for three Honduran victims of domestic violence before the US Immigration Court. In recognition of his numerous volunteer legal efforts, Rafferty was chosen as a recipient of the 2012 Super Lawyers Pro Bono Award.

Rafferty will return to Philadelphia in 2013 to begin representing victims of labor trafficking in Pennsylvania as an Independence Foundation Public Interest Law Fellow with the locally-based Friends of Farmworkers. 

Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. The Villanova University School of Law provides broad-based legal education and its award-winning clinics and Lawyering Together Program provide free legal aid to those in need. The School is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the American Association of Law Schools. Notable alumni include:  Hon. Edward Rendell (Former Governor, Pa.), Hon. Marjorie Rendell (Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit), Richard Trumka (President, AFL-CIO), Joseph T. Sebastianelli (President and CEO, Thomas Jefferson Health Systems), Jeffrey S. Moorad (Vice Chairman, San Diego Padres) and Michael Holston (Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Hewlett-Packard Company).