Unbound Passion: Allison Byrd's Journey to End Human Trafficking

Posted by Texas A&M School of Law on Apr 23, 2024 4:51:10 PM
Allison Byrd speaking at an Unbound Now event

Many people often discover their calling in life during adulthood. However, Allison Byrd, a 3L and Fort Worth-native, found her calling long before she graduated high school. By the age of 13, she realized that she could be an ambassador for change in her pursuit to combat human trafficking. Since then, she has cultivated that calling and helped establish similar frameworks on an international level.  

Byrd has spent more than a decade working and volunteering with Unbound Now, a Texas-based nonprofit that protects and advocates for survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. Throughout her tenure, she has worked alongside government and municipal entities — including law enforcement — to identify and dismantle underground human trafficking networks.  

A Voice for the Voiceless  

She first heard about Unbound Now when it was founded in 2012, and its goals quickly resonated with her. She learned quickly, reading up on everything she could and familiarizing herself with statewide and national data on human trafficking. The numbers were staggering, and the depth of the ongoing problem compelled her to act. Despite her dedication to the mission, her work with the organization started at a very grassroots level with an all-hands-on-deck mentality. The work was tough, and the days were often long, Byrd said.  

"Throughout high school, I volunteered and worked with them and would support on stings with the sheriff's office whenever victims were being recovered here in the North Texas area,” she said. "It could be 17-hour days as you raid a facility, recover the victims, find the traffickers, arrest them, do the interviewing, and get everybody to a safe house — all before midnight — while eating lots of pizza to keep everybody's blood sugar up throughout.”  

Within a few years, her network of resources grew. She began regularly working with local officials and attorneys, including the Tim Curry Justice Center and Lindy Borchardt, a human trafficking prosecutor. By the time she was an undergraduate freshman at Baylor University, she had already spent time overseas, including a six-month stint in Indonesia, working with newly formed Unbound Now offices and other partners.  

With the support of friends, she later transferred to Georgetown University for her sophomore year and later earned her bachelor’s degree in international affairs. While in college, she utilized nearby resources throughout the Washington D.C. area and sharpened her skills along the way. She interned at the White House's Office of Economic Initiatives, where she assisted with the White House Human Trafficking Summit and participated in the annual meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking (PITF).   

“While I worked in D.C., I developed a network while working with various federal offices that handled the kind of federal policymaking side on human trafficking,” she said. “It was fun to work with the same agencies whose reports I had been reading eight years prior as a very young student, to sit with them as they would then write annual reports, and ultimately be able to help pass a key executive order that expanded resources for the fight against domestic human trafficking.”  

Selfless Service Without Borders  

After college, Byrd knew she wanted to attend law school. Growing up in Fort Worth, she was keenly aware of Texas A&M School of Law. It was, after all, located down the road from the courthouses and Tarrant County offices that she and her organization frequented over the years.  

In 2021, she began her first year at law school. She was quickly captivated by the environment, especially her international law courses. She often met with classmates to discuss coursework, evidence procedures, and cull over past cases that dealt with sexual assault charges — all of which connected her prior experiences of navigating the law on behalf of victims. She was also introduced to the law school’s externship program. Though still relatively new to law school, she wanted to work toward what she called a “20-year card” and create a legacy-defining goal that would ultimately exist beyond her legal career.  

As she searched for a way to accomplish this, Europe experienced a catastrophic shift. By February 2022, the Russian-Ukranian War had begun. Reports of casualties, widespread displacement, trafficking, and sexual assault were rampant. The growing need for resources was undeniable. Byrd soon received a call from Unbound Now’s CEO looking for help. The organization soon began mapping out an international effort to provide a crisis response for Ukranian victims. With the guidance of her professors, she was able to answer the call and traveled to Warsaw, Poland, with other team members to aid victims. 

“With the help of a Fort Worth attorney who traveled with me for about six weeks, we opened an office in Poland,” she said. “We were able to set up a legal entity, navigate our way through the local tax code, hire staff members, and also work with Interpol.”   

The small but nimble operation was sent primarily to aid victims and women along the Ukrainian and Polish border who found themselves caught in the crosshairs of war. Many of her European allies working on the ground with her were women providing safe extractions for other victims beset by predatory situations by warring soldiers.   Byrd speaking at the TEDxTAMU event

“As we sat around with those women who had been running extractions, I could see the stories of pain, loss, and separation in their eyes,” she said in her TEDxTAMU presentation. “They’d chosen to help others knowing that not only this would compromise their physical safety, but they would bear the emotional wounds as well.” 

Though her time in Ukraine was temporary, she has served with the European office for over two years. Currently, the staff has grown to 120 and has expanded its global partnerships to provide 24/7 crisis response for human trafficking victims.  

Despite being a seasoned worker in her field, fighting human trafficking took a significant mental toll, she admitted. Finding a balance in her life allowed her to keep her passion in focus.   

“I always tell people that for things like this, the need itself cannot be your driver because the need will always be there. And when you get tired, the need itself is not always a good enough reason to keep going. I stayed in the game because I felt called to it,” she said.  

She recalled a time several years into her volunteer work when she was certain that she had reached her limit. She remembers aiding the sheriff's office, helping with case management, balancing her undergraduate courses, and teetering on burnout. During this moment of reflection, Byrd’s mother unintentionally guided her back to her passion. 

“While I was working on another case, my mom called and asked apologetically if I could go down to the jail and pick up one more victim and try to get her out before her trafficker arrived there to pick her up first,” she said.   

Though exhausted, Byrd understood and happily agreed to her mother’s request. Upon her arrival at the jail, she reviewed the victim’s available information. What she discovered stunned her. In a moment of sincere clarity that came down like a lightning bolt, she was reaffirmed.  

"While reading about this girl, I learned she had the same birthday as me, only off by a month. It was then that I felt reminded that this could have been me — it could have been any of us,” she said. “And so back to that 20-year card idea: I'm in this whether I feel passionate or not, whether I feel like I want to get up and get in another airplane or not. I'm in this because I feel very called to the work and called to the people I get to serve alongside. Like William Wilberforce once said, ‘once you've seen something, you can never say you did not know.’"   

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