About You and Your Work

Your bio:

Rochelle Keyhan is the Chief Executive Officer of Collective Liberty and the 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation Stop Slavery Hero award winner. An internationally sought expert of human trafficking, she develops and executes the organization’s strategic disruption of specific types of human trafficking. Her team analyzes national trends and best practices, creating comprehensive trainings and resources to help facilitate the systemic eradication of trafficking in the United States.


She was formerly the Director of Disruption Strategies at Polaris, a department she designed to shift systems to disrupt trafficking in the United States. Before joining Polaris, Rochelle spent six years as a prosecutor of gender-based violence crimes in Philadelphia, where she is bar certified to practice law. As an Assistant District Attorney, Rochelle championed the need for increased investigation and prosecution of human trafficking in Philadelphia, successfully prosecuting the first two trials herself. 

She is co-located in Texas and Washington, DC.

Project name:

Collective Liberty

One-line project summary:

The 21st century collaborative and technology-enabled solution to the age old problem of human trafficking.

Present your project.

Everyone deserves to live in safety without the risk of being victimized into human trafficking, a crime that affects millions of people worldwide. Traffickers prey upon vulnerable populations, exploiting them for forced sex or forced labor.  At the same time, law enforcement work in a siloed field with limited resources while trying to disrupt organized trafficking networks.

Simply put, the current system is broken. This project combines and analyzes datasets to give enforcement agencies the chance to fight back. We use traffickers’ digital trails across jurisdictions, leveraging artificial intelligence to quickly cut through non-critical data and help jurisdictions get faster, better, and more consistent at identifying trafficking networks. This increases offender-focused prosecutions while supporting survivors.

We advise across North America and Europe, with over a dozen nations hungry to scale our work once we have solidly scaled across all 50 United States.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Human Trafficking is a threat to the long term stability of the international community. Its tendrils are not limited by borders or national stability; rather, they stretch into every nation and affect every people, regardless of race or creed. These modern day slavers participate in an ‘industry’ that nets more than $150 billion a year. It is estimated that over 40 million people are trafficked globally, and yet the 2018 TIP report research revealed that there were only 17,880 prosecutions and 7,045 convictions globally in 2017. 

Additionally, vulnerable populations exploited in human trafficking desperately need support and guidance on how to escape and the next steps to take to rehabilitate their lives. Third-party recruitment of foreign nationals for labor contracts in the United States is an unfortunate legacy that continues today. From the agriculture and meat-processing industries, to fisheries and domestic work, foreign national victims are among some of the most vulnerable and exploited populations in our country. 

Without actionable measures in place to stop or disrupt the illicit flow of people and funds across the borders, we will not stem the ever-rising tide of human suffering. Thus, we are modernizing and updating the field's approach with data and technology.

What is your project?

We are shifting pieces of our culture that allow exploitation to flourish toward a strong culture of intolerance of exploitation – toward Collective Liberty for all of us. Our advocacy leverages technology to reach and empower everyday people to end human trafficking. We created the Forging Freedom portal to fill a huge gap in the anti-human trafficking field: lack of systematic, coordinated data-sharing and collaboration. As we identify policy trends in the field, actionable data from first responders, and needs expressed directly by survivors, we create and share ways the general population can take action through digital communities of practice. This allows activists and advocates alike to scale data-driven, local policy solutions at a coordinated national level by taking concrete, actionable steps. Our pilot effort has helped law enforcement close 1,000+ trafficking venues, civilians and legislators pass 30 laws and through these communities of practice, and continued to empower activists to empower others. 

Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?

Human trafficking as a field is disparate with distinct industries, agencies, and actors operating in their own silo. There is a lack of connection and sharing of knowledge and data across the field that could potentially have an enormous impact on decreasing this crime. As a result, we as a nation do not have a collective human trafficking pan-identity where there is a cohesive community of activists and advocates all working together. Instead, organizations doing this work remain in their own bubbles, while activists and advocates that want to help do not know where to go or what to do. 

The individuals we work with are the doers, movers, and shakers within their communities, and want to contribute to a meaningful cause that aligns with their values, that they can be a part of. These activists and advocates need a digital platform to connect, collaborate, share, and learn from one another within their communities that enables them to scale this knowledge into actionable steps that will have positive externalities at the national level. More importantly, this helps build a community of grassroots-level linkages which has the potential to impact the macro- and transnational levels as well.

Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?

Elevating issues and their projects by building awareness and driving action to solve the most difficult problems of our world

Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.

We are scaling and expanding our systemic change work to the general public to increase community building, civic engagement, and grassroots mobilization from the bottom-up. With a problem as vast as human trafficking, solutions can seem out of reach, and action can seem overwhelming. Equipping people with accurate knowledge of human trafficking from our data-driven research, literature, and the activist and advocacy toolkit helps one person’s action spark the change needed in their community. 

This public (and tech-driven) leveraging of grassroots mobilizing across related movements democratizes access to the process of defining our rights and collective social accountability.  

How did you come up with your project?

When I was a prosecutor in Philadelphia I worked on the city’s very first human trafficking cases. I had to figure everything out as I went along, and it wasn’t easy. One particularly complicated case that I handled made me realize that this whole system could be better. In that case, a trafficker preyed upon a 12 year old girl who had run away from foster care. He waited until the cold of winter, knowing she had nowhere else to go, and started trafficking her in exchange for a warm place to sleep. When the case came across my desk, it looked like the girl was the only witness -- but I found that the same guy had four prior arrests for similar trafficking related activity. 

I had to call police departments, court and prosecutors offices, looking for contact information and case files. I often found myself at my desk at 8pm on a Friday night, eating popcorn for dinner and thinking "There has to be a better way".  In the end, I managed to locate four victims to testify against the trafficker, helping send him to prison for 48 years. But I was right, there is a better way.

Why are you passionate about your project?

One of my last trafficking cases came that came across my desk, I recognized the defendant's name as a repeat domestic abuser. I assumed this was another abuse case where his victims would not be interested in prosecution. When I opened the file and saw that it was the sex trafficking of a minor - who had been trafficked the entire time I was unable to convict him for domestic abuse - I felt overwhelmed at my failure.

When I was sitting in my office in Philadelphia drowning in the sea of endless tragedy like that case, I was not the only person fighting this kind of battle. But I felt alone. Law enforcement case loads are well above what is recommended for special victims cases. We have 18,000 jurisdictions reinventing the wheel with each trafficking case. And at the end of that are victims being left behind while traffickers continue with impunity. 

That burden should not be shouldered by individual prosecutors and detectives alone in their offices eating popcorn for dinner. We need collective action as a society to shift our culture and approach to create a society that is inhospitable to human trafficking. 

Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?

I am well-positioned to deliver this project given my extensive experience and expertise in the human trafficking field.  I have over nine years working in government and nonprofit organizations as an advocate for vulnerable populations, leveraging in-depth experience in gender-based violence issues, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking. As a former prosecutor in Philadelphia working on gender-based violence cases, I have a proven record of independently prosecuting 20 felony jury trials, more than 100 rape, human trafficking, and domestic violence felony bench trials, over 10,000 domestic vioence misdemanor hearings, and over 10,000 domestic violence and sexual violence charging and investigation decisions.  I have also received numerous awards supporting my work in this field, including the MassChallenge Diamond Award for tech solutions to increase successful prosecutions of human trafficking, and the 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation’s “International Stop Slavery Hero” Award.  As CEO of Collective Liberty, I bring these skills and experiences in forging collaborative relationships and building coalitions with diverse stakeholders to advance public policy initiatives and drive strategic change.

To date, my team and I have supported the closure of over 1,250 human trafficking venues (including 10% of the nation’s massage parlor trafficking venues). We have directly advised on over 30 new or improved laws across the U.S., empowering survivors of trafficking and shifting investigations onto exploiters. We have trained over 8,000 investigators in over 200 agencies across the U.S. on best practices for supporting victims and detecting and stopping traffickers

Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.

Mobilizing around grassroots issues in predominantly white organizing spaces has created numerous adversities and obstacles to true progress. In prior positions, while managing diverse teams, I, as a woman of color, reported to white leadership. I had a supervisor that impacted my own work experience through micro-aggressions and micro-management. What was more difficult to navigate, though, was how those experiences impacted my team and their morale. This work environment created significant obstacles in empowering and supporting my team while also focusing on the work, as we were so bogged down in internal politics and difficult relationships.

I refused to let the supervisory and cultural lack of support for inclusivity, and diversity, prevent myself and my team for insistently adhering to our values. Inclusivity and diversity are underlying frameworks for solving/tackling human trafficking and gender-based violence in general. Setting the example that these were non-negotiable, even in the face of supervisors who were uncomfortable with truly equitable approaches to the work empowered my team with the knowledge that even when the consequences hit close to home - we must always do what is right, do the most good.

Essentially - I have the courage to (professionally) stand alone and be counted.

Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.

Working on anti-street harassment advocacy in Philadelphia was really educational and impactful for me. I was the leader of the local organization, HollabackPHILLY and then Feminist Public Works. Beyond our programmatic and strategic success, it involved a lot of personal growth. I’m a first generation Iranian-American immigrant and was dating a first generation Syrian-American immigrant at the time who was a strong ally to the work. Together we had various perspectives on the nuances at play when street harassment impacted our communities. But that’s obviously not fully representative - and alone I struggled to represent the full scope of street harassment. 

We collaborated a lot with communities of color in West Philadelphia to increase the scope and representation of our work, educate people on the effects street harassment has on the people harassed, and trying to work through the motivation of those doing the harassing. This collaborative approach was very community-oriented, focused on engagement and rehabilitation instead of punishment. As a prosecutor, I learned a lot about holistic, community and hope-driven approaches toward culture change from those partnerships. The collaboration with communities of black-identified people of color challenged me to grow in my approach as a leader, as well.

How long have you been working on your project?

2 years as CEO, 2 at Polaris, and 6 as prosecutor.

Where are you headquartered?

Washington D.C., DC, USA

What type of organization is your project?

More About Your Work

Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.

  • Women & Girls
  • LGBTQ+
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Rural
  • Peri-Urban
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?

  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals

What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

Over the next year we plan to scale our solution from the current 206 jurisdictions in 36 states, to ensure that we are reaching all 50 states and US territories. Myself and our Partnership and Field Building Lead Oscar Delgado have over 20 years of grassroots mobilizing work across North America. We bring that experience with shifting systems across the continent to this collective work.

After five years, across North America and Europe, each city will no longer reinvent the wheel in combating human trafficking. Instead, departments across law enforcement, code enforcement, private sector investigative departments, and legal services, can quickly learn from each other. My work is dedicated to supercharging the national effort to catch up, by connecting state agencies to one another. From there, we expand to increase international collaboration.

What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

NSVRC: collaborate to provide training and technical assistance to non profits supporting survivors of trafficking.

Unbound Global: collaborate to train and support survivors of sex trafficking, as well as connect social service support to the investigative process across our law enforcement partners.

200+ Police Departments across 36 States: empower law enforcement with data to pursue offender-focused investigations that penalize traffickers while supporting and protecting survivors. This in some jurisdictions involves defacto decriminalization of potential victims while jurisdictions build stronger human trafficking cases and prosecutions.

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

We are a not-for-profit organization, relying on donations, and government and foundation grants. We are also creating fee-for-service products for corporations that will diversify our income stream and subsidize the costs for our non-profit work.

If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.

To date we have raised: $780,000, beginning in October 2019.

We have received grant funding from State Governor's offices in the amount of $535,000 in the last 12 months. (First $204,000, with renewal at $331,000).

We have won two pitch competitions for a total of $120,000 prize money in the last 12 months.

We have received foundation grants in the amount of $40,000 in the last 12 months.

We have received corporate sponsorships in the amount of $85,000 in the last 12 months.

What are your estimated expenses for 2020?

Our expenses this year are estimated around $450,000.

The Prize

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Funding and revenue model
  • Board members or advisors
  • Legal or regulatory matters
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Marketing, media, and exposure

Solution Team

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