Catherine Chen is a veteran anti-trafficking strategist who has spent nearly two decades building innovative programs that apply a social justice lens to the systemic failures and inequities that are at the root of sex and labor trafficking.
Catherine comes to the role after serving as Polaris’s chief program officer, where she spearheaded the organization’s 10-year vision for supporting survivors and reducing and preventing trafficking at the heart of the problem.
Catherine’s personal experience growing up as the daughter of Chinese immigrants in California shaped her commitment to confronting racism and injustice. While working as a management consultant after college, she began doing volunteer outreach to people who were experiencing homelessness or in prostitution. Her journey continued with a trip to the Northern Mariana Islands, where she thought she would be teaching summer school and instead was confronted with the plight of thousands of trafficked Chinese workers forced to work for pennies, producing clothing for American brands, with no way to get back home. At the time, the United States did not even have a legal definition of human trafficking on the books.
Inspired by that experience, Catherine began researching human trafficking, obtained a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University, and went to work as the inaugural Anti-Trafficking and Child Protection Advisor for Save the Children. In that role, Catherine spent two years in Indonesia leading work to prevent child sex trafficking and child domestic servitude. Among the most formative experiences of her work with Save the Children was meeting a young Nepali survivor of sex trafficking and child marriage, whose experiences solidified her understanding that survivors must be central to the formulation of solutions that actually work for them.
Upon returning to the United States, Catherine continued to deepen her anti-trafficking work by providing training and technical assistance to U.S. Department of Justice task forces across the country, ensuring law enforcement and service providers working on human trafficking had access to best practices and peer learning.
Before joining Polaris, Catherine spent seven years at 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.
Catherine has a B.A. in human biology from Stanford University. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and her Indonesian street dog.