A Hancock County native is working to fight against sex trafficking in vulnerable populations.

Lydia Ness, a 2016 graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a 2008 Greenfield-Central High School graduate, has been selected as a 2016 Equal Justice Works Fellow.

Equal Justice Works is a nonprofit organization that works to create public interest opportunities for law students and lawyers. Equal Justice Works Fellows, who receive funding from law firms, corporations and private foundations, design two-year projects in conjunction with nonprofit organizations that have first-hand knowledge of the most critical needs in the communities they serve.

Starting in September, Ness will work for Equip for Equality, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities in Illinois, where she will provide legal services and outreach to protect people with disabilities from sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

During the two-year fellowship, Ness will investigate reports from the Illinois Department of Human Services about sexual abuse at facilities serving people with disabilities and identify situations where people with disabilities are not safe. She will develop written materials to educate children and adults with disabilities about their right to be free from sexual abuse and sex trafficking and about how Equip for Equality can advocate for them in situations involving abuse, neglect or civil rights violations.

Ness will also advocate in court for people with disabilities who need legal protections, such as a change of guardianship if a guardian is failing in his or her duties or an order of protection in cases of abuse.

When Ness was an undergraduate student at Biola University near Los Angeles, she planned to become a journalist. She traveled to the Dominican Republic with a group of students working to write a book about Dominican baseball players who make it to the major leagues, but something she saw changed her life.

We saw a child traded for money on the beach the very first day there,” she said. “That shaped how I wanted to treat the trip.”

The experience inspired her to pursue a law degree in order to help people who are vulnerable to being trapped in sex trafficking.

Since January 2014, Ness has worked as a legal intern in Equip for Equality’s abuse investigation unit, which works with public agencies to investigate abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disabilities.

Ness decided almost three years ago to pursue a fellowship with Equal Justice Works so she could combine her interests of helping those with disabilities and victims of sex trafficking, she said.

In addition, she was a legal fellow in Chicago-Kent’s Criminal Defense Clinic, a legal intern at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and a volunteer at the Self-Help Web Center at the Daley Center. She received a Justice John Paul Stevens Fellowship in 2015 to support her summer work at Cabrini Green Legal Aid.

Ness also served as president of Chicago-Kent’s Student Humanitarian Network and executive cases and controversies editor for Chicago-Kent’s Journal of International and Comparative Law. Before law school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in theology from Biola University in California.