Director of State Victim Services Shares Passion for Helping Survivors
Cara Chambers leads initiatives to combat human trafficking and improve reporting on missing and murdered Indigenous People
- Published In: Columns
- Last Updated: Dec 09, 2022
By Jennifer Kocher
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Few people in Wyoming have done more to advance victims’ rights than Cara Chambers. As the Director of the Division of Victim Services in the Wyoming Attorney General’s office, Chambers oversees victims’ services for the state and spearheads both the Human Trafficking Task Force and the Wyoming Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force.
Along with being instrumental in getting human trafficking legislation passed in 2013, Chambers, 47, also led the initiative to publish the first statewide comprehensive report related to missing and murdered Indigenous people.
It’s a calling that found her. Chambers set out to become a pediatrician, but as a student at Longwood College (now Longwood University) in Farmville, Va., her interest in sociology superseded chemistry. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology with a sociology minor in 1997, followed by a master’s degree in sociology in 1999.
After working as a victim witness assistant for the Guilford County District Attorney’s office in North Carolina, Chambers earned a law degree from the University of Wyoming in 2005. She then served in the tort litigation division in the Wyoming Attorney General’s office before assuming her current role in 2011.
Public service is in Chambers’ DNA. Her grandmother, June Boyle, represented Albany County as both a Democrat state representative and senator from 1960s to 1984. Her father, Michael J. Boyle, was a diplomat in the foreign service. Growing up, Chambers lived in Morocco, Japan, Korea and Zaire, where civil war broke out during her junior year of high school. These experiences shaped her world view and inspired her desire to impact positive change.
Today, Chambers resides in Cheyenne with her husband, Laramie County Circuit Court Judge Sean Chambers and their two children.
The Wyoming Truth caught up with Chambers to discuss her work. What follows are excerpts from the interview.
When did you first become aware that human trafficking was a problem? What prompted you to act?
Chambers: You know, it’s funny about that, because I saw it when I was working in the late 1990s and early on as a victim witness coordinator. I had never heard that term [human trafficking], but I remember going to an “end demand” training targeting human trafficking from the buyer perspective and having this complete lightbulb moment…they were talking about the whole pimp prostitute relationship. Now, the forced labor component of human trafficking being modern day slavery, I got later. But that was not the type of victims that I was seeing. At the time, I was working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, but I didn’t have that word…
When I became director in 2011, this term was now buzzworthy, and I had to figure out what this was. We kept getting pushback, because people said it doesn’t happen here. Well, you know, it does. It’s just not what people think it is. People have this image from movies of people being snatched in parking lots or think it’s just something that happened to women in Southeast Asia who work in nail salons or illicit massage. They thought it was something that wasn’t happening and certainly wasn’t homegrown. But it absolutely is.
How did the human trafficking task force take root? What types of initiatives are you currently focused on?
Chambers: It’s definitely evolved over the years. When we first got started, it was a matter of defining what human trafficking was and talking to a lot of legislators to get it going. After it [legislation] passed, it was talking to law enforcement, making sure that all the allied professionals were working together, from victim services, law enforcement or prosecutor’s offices. We also wanted to work with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault because we realized that there’s a huge sexual assault component to trafficking…we wanted to make sure we figured out what sort of resources our state had and develop a website with a list of different resources, because human trafficking victims do have a lot of similar needs to other victims of sexual assault, but also a lot of differences that are very unique to the trafficking component of it.
Then it was a matter of bringing in truckers against trafficking and making sure that we talked to owner operators and the truck stops to [elevate] awareness there. Then we reached out to the hospitality industry and local nonprofits to share resources. [Further efforts involved] tweaking the law to make sure we had asset forfeiture, then tweaking the law to enhance some of the penalties for second convictions…So the work of the Human Trafficking Task Force, which I feel is, at this point, a pretty well-oiled machine, is to be a place for policy advisement…We are still working on our awareness campaign and funding training through Uprising out of Sheridan.
Are there any human trafficking-related bills slated for discussion in the coming legislative session?
Chambers: Currently, we are trying to close the loophole on some of our prostitution statutes as it’s related to the illicit massage industry…we’re trying to get just an amendment to our current prosecution statutes to add manual stimulation, as it were.
What about the MMIP Task Force? What’s the next step after the publication of the 2021 report?
Chambers: So out of the initial report were really three recommendations. One was highlighting the need to get better reporting, as far as vital statistics and classification of race, and another recommendation was that the reservation needs to have tribal-specific advocates. And I’m happy to say that, as of last month, they have finally have someone on board, Rebecca Morin. Then, the other one was working to define the missing persons processes…and really having a more connected network of law enforcement on best practices.
We’re also continuing to work on raising awareness and improving the reporting on missing and murdered indigenous folks. Right now, the big legislative piece of the MMIP task force is supporting and trying to educate legislators about the Ashanti alert, which is essentially an alert system like Amber Alert for anyone 18 to 64.
What drives you to do this work?
Chambers: I think at the end of the day, I really do feel very personally invested in making sure that there are these resources in our state and helping families…There’s folks like myself who are purely academics. I do not have a personal history, and I’ve not been a victim. . . . I just have a passion for making sure that victims are heard and acknowledged, and that this state does what [it] can to support those individuals.