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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Alumnus Jonathan Derby Fights Sex Trafficking in India

by Siobhan Cullen

For Jonathan Derby ('04) the road to India may have begun, coincidentally, in an Indian restaurant in New York City, while seated across from Pepperdine professor Bob Cochran. In New York to attend a conference on law and poverty, the law student and his mentor continued their ongoing conversations about the law, the poor, and a Christian's duty to help those in need.

It was a discussion that Derby had been having with himself for quite some time. He had spent five years working in business marketing, growing restless and feeling unfulfilled. He became more involved with his church and volunteered at a children's outreach in inner-city Long Beach, California. This experience inspired him; he left his job and pursued legal studies at the Pepperdine School of Law.

Shortly after arriving, Derby learned about the International Justice Mission (IJM), a group of lawyers and human rights workers who help vulnerable populations exploited by those in power. The Spanish-speaker successfully applied for internships with an IJM affiliate in Honduras, at IJM headquarters in Washington, D.C., and at the U.S. State Department, Office of War Crimes Issues.

"I knew I wanted to be a lawyer for the poor," explains Derby, "and these internships provided focus." Upon graduation, Derby's international experience and willingness to travel paid off; he was offered a position in India, working with local authorities to prosecute criminals who sell children into the sex trade.

"The issue of ending child prostitution was gaining a lot of attention," Derby recalls, "and I respected the work that was being done. So, really, going to India was an easy decision." He landed in Mumbai, where he conducted research and wrote briefs on Indian law to help IJM lawyers support local prosecutors. Derby and his colleagues sought to increase convictions; deter traffickers, pimps, and brothel managers from exploiting children; and set legal precedents to aid future cases.

Working in India has broadened Derby's professional experience as well as his perspective. "Living in India forces me to confront the reality in which so many people in our world live," he says. "When I am confronted with such poverty, I realize how much I have and how much I can do to help people, especially as an American lawyer."

Still in India, Derby has begun working on a dream of his: writing a book about his experiences. The book will chronicle his work in South Asia, but more importantly, will tell the story of the lessons he learned. Derby will bring these lessons with him when he returns to California this year to seek work as a trial attorney.