Following a nationwide search, Polaris is excited to announce the appointment of veteran anti trafficking strategist Catherine Chen as the organization’s new chief executive officer. Chen previously served as Polaris’s chief program officer, where she brought nearly two decades of expertise in battling sex and labor trafficking to the work of building out an innovative 10-year vision for reducing and preventing human trafficking.
“It is with great confidence that we entrust Catherine Chen with leading Polaris into a new era,” said Polaris Board Chairman Gregory Moore. “She is committed to our mission, believes in racial equity and social justice, and will build the internal systems and external relationships to maintain Polaris’s reputation as a leader in the field of anti human trafficking and helping survivors reclaim their lives.”
“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to build on the work of a team whose legacy includes conceiving of and operating the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline for more than a decade, bringing data-driven research and information to a nascent field, and recognizing that victims and survivors of human trafficking are the true experts in this arena,” Chen said.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chen began her anti trafficking work as a volunteer before there even was a U.S. law that defined human trafficking as a crime. Her journey began with street outreach to people who were homeless or in prostitution in California and continued with a trip to the Northern Mariana Islands where she learned of the plight of thousands of Chinese workers forced to work for pennies, producing clothing for American brands, with no way to get back home. That experience and others led to her commitment to anti trafficking work that recognizes survivors as the true experts, accepts that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem and understands that trafficking in all its forms is the end result of inequities, abuses of power and massive systemic and governmental failures.
Chen joined Polaris from Humanity United, where she led the Human Trafficking and Labor Migration team as Director of Investments, building an extensive program to address trafficking and labor exploitation of South Asian migrant workers.
Prior to Humanity United, Chen spent a decade building anti trafficking programs across Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the United States. That work included leading a training and technical assistance program for law enforcement and service providers for the U.S. Department of Justice and spending several years as the Anti-Trafficking and Child Protection Advisor for Save the Children. In that role, Chen spent two years working in Indonesia following the Indian Ocean tsunami to prevent child sex trafficking and exploitation of migrant domestic workers.
Chen received her master’s degree in public health from Columbia University with a focus on forced migration and health, and her bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University.