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Into the Darkness

By Christian Shields, November 28, 2023


Twenty years ago, if you had told Liberty University alumna Heather (Dolbear) Fischer (’06) that she would one day be the United States government’s highest-ranking senior official on human trafficking, she would not have believed you. But throughout her illustrious career combating human trafficking, including serving in the White House under the Trump administration, Fischer has used the education and inspiration she received at Liberty, along with her passion for serving God and others, to change the world.

“During my time at Liberty, I would have probably been least likely to be on a federal task force and least likely to work in the White House, but I have learned that God has a sense of humor, and He has exceeded my every expectation all along the journey of me being obedient to the next thing that He was calling me to do,” she said.

Fischer, originally from Syracuse, N.Y., earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty and went on to work jobs primarily in education after graduation. While she said she was always drawn to community-based services, caring for children and family needs and even supporting friends in their work fighting human trafficking in Southeast Asia, it wasn’t until she heard Love146 CEO and co-founder Rob Morris speak at an event in New York that she was spurred into action. She became heavily involved in fighting on the front lines with Love146, volunteering at first and then holding various leadership roles within the organization.

“At the time (of graduation), I thought, ‘I wish I could have something to offer (to fight human trafficking),’ but I just didn’t see the on-ramp to engagement for me. I also felt like human trafficking and child sexual exploitation was a really dark issue. As someone who is a total empath, I thought that I couldn’t wrap my mind around that and enter into that darkness,” Fischer said. “But when I understood that I could use my vocation and my giftings to be a part of the anti-trafficking movement, that’s when I had a clear picture of how I could engage beyond just writing a check or hosting a fundraiser. And that’s something that I learned from Love146. Their posture and mentality is that everyone has a role to play, and they gave me that on-ramp to engagement.”

In 2018, Fischer joined the McCain Institute as the Combatting Human Trafficking Program Manager. A year later, she accepted a position with the U.S. Department of State as a special advisor for trafficking in persons before transitioning into a role with the U.S. Department of Justice and eventually being called on to take the lead role of Human Trafficking Czar under the Trump administration.

“We need women leaders with integrity, courage, humility. All these are attributes that I know Liberty students have. I can tell you with the people I interact with, whether it is overseas or here, that the world’s desperate for that character and that type of leadership and people with conviction.” 

— Heather Fischer (’06)

In the White House, she said she was encouraged by many of those she worked with who shared her passion for fighting injustices, including former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

“Anytime Vice President Mike Pence was included in these conversations (on human trafficking), it really wasn’t a conversation,” Fischer said. “It was, ‘This is the right thing to do. You’re going to protect vulnerable people from human exploitation.’ We had a consensus about that. So many people I worked with shared the belief that people shouldn’t be commoditized and that they are entitled to being treated with dignity and respect just by virtue of who they are.”

As Human Trafficking Czar, she oversaw the president’s task force on human trafficking, which included 22 federal agencies, and organized a White House roundtable on human trafficking.

Fischer said her Christian faith was a driving factor in all of that work.

“The Judeo-Christian principles we are taught state that people are Imago Dei, they’re created in the image of God and are entitled to dignity and respect as such. For me, that’s really the underpinning of a lot of this work. Second, even as Americans we have principles that people are entitled to: liberty, justice, and freedom.”

Fischer currently serves on the executive leadership team for Thomson Reuters Special Services, where she advises on the intersection of human rights and national security, serving as a brand ambassador. The four main pillars of her daily work are combatting human trafficking, safeguarding children from online exploitation, pursuing human rights violators, and promoting peace and security.

Fischer was selected as a 2023 USA Fellow by the Eisenhower Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to Malaysia and Thailand over the summer to research forced labor. While there, she had an opportunity to interact with several high-ranking officials, including a Malaysian prince and the former prime minister of Thailand, as well as human rights leaders and slavery survivors. She spent time developing relationships and hearing testimonials from individuals who had escaped sea slavery (a practice in which people are tricked into boarding fishing ships and then kidnapped and forced to work).

“While overseas, for one, I saw the progress that has been made on forced labor and making sure that workers are being protected,” she said. “I also saw the capacity building efforts; it’s incredible to see Thai and Malaysian leaders at the helm, pushing for this human rights agenda. The third thing was seeing major corporations take this issue seriously and really weaving it into their corporate due diligence process from the top.”

Fischer had visited Thailand 10 years ago while working for Love146, and she said she was encouraged to see the tremendous progress that the country has made toward protecting its people from unfair treatment.

“The amount of awareness-raising on the issue in both Thailand and Malaysia is bearing fruit,” she said. “For sure, government leaders are very aware of the situation. They’ve been well educated, and a lot of that has been because of U.S. government action.”

She noted that the United States contributes to the better treatment of workers in other countries through legislation, specifically the Tariff Act, which prohibits the importation of any goods that were made “wholly or in part” by forced, indentured, or convict labor, and the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act, which prevents any goods made by forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China from entering the United States.

Fischer (left) participates on a Human Trafficking Panel with Liberty School of Law Dean Morse Tan, Safe House Project CEO Kristi Wells, and Professor Larry Presley during the Helms School of Government’s annual Public Policy Conference in April.

“It was an extraordinary trip. I’m so grateful to be selected, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for what could be best practices that I can now take back to the United States and share with major corporations,” Fischer said.

She credited her years at Liberty with helping her better understand how her personal beliefs should affect her daily life.

“My time at Liberty helped formulate (my worldview) because I took a class with (John W. Rawlings School of Divinity Professor) Dr. Lew Weider that really forced me to think about what my worldview was … sitting down and really thinking about what I believe and framing that out.”

She recalled her first visit to campus for College For A Weekend.

“I noticed right away that everyone was so kind, so helpful, so welcoming,” she said. “In the classes, I saw a Socratic dialogue that I don’t know that I expected or saw at other places. Having diverse thoughts and points presented and really going through that process was something that was quite important to me.”

She also recalled the vast knowledge she gained in classes about human relationships that set an early foundation for her current career, such as learning about the bonding that occurs between a caregiver and a child in her psychology classes that she has used to better understand the trauma bonding that human traffickers often use to manipulate their captives.

Fischer recently returned to campus for the first time since her graduation to participate in the Helms School of Government’s Public Policy Conference in April. During her talk, she emphasized the prestigious positions that Liberty students can hold in their future jobs and communities.

“My message was that it is my expectation that other Liberty alumni will take my place and eclipse me,” she said. “I really tailored my messaging to the female students in the room because a lot of times we don’t see ourselves in these places, whether it’s the McCain Institute, State Department, or Thomson Reuters Special Services as an executive. I wanted to push them to think about where they could go because if you would have said I would serve in these roles when I was at Liberty, I would have said, ‘That’s crazy.’ But I’m so grateful, and I think with some encouragement and some sponsorship and coaching, we could see women aspire to be in these places.”

Another part of her message, Fischer said, was how the world needs strong leadership.

“We need women leaders with integrity, courage, humility,” she said. “All these are attributes that I know Liberty students have. I can tell you with the people I interact with, whether it is overseas or here, that the world’s desperate for that character and that type of leadership and people with conviction.” 

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