Contact

George Diepenbrock
KU News Service
785-864-8853

Researchers developing model to prevent human trafficking, modern-day slavery

Tue, 03/25/2014

LAWRENCE — The success of Oscar-winning film “12 Years a Slave” has brought wide attention to the pre-Civil War memoir of Solomon Northup, a freeborn man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery for 12 years in Louisiana.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, but sadly pieces of Northup’s story still ring true today as human trafficking remains operating in a shadow of everyday life. A team of University of Kansas researchers is studying a myriad of issues surrounding trafficking and developing a prevention model with the goal it could one day apply both nationally and internationally.

“We’re working on an empirical model for assessing vulnerabilities within populations that can eventually lead to exploitation,” said Hannah Britton, director of ASHTI, the Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Initiative. “We’re looking at risk and protective factors and communities that can help people avoid exploitation.”

ASHTI in March launched its website, which will include preliminary research findings, said Britton, who is an associate professor of political science and women, gender and sexuality studies as well as director of the Center for International Political Analysis at KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research, which houses ASHTI.

The launch of the website comes one year after Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and KU hosted the Kansas Conference on Slavery and Human Trafficking on campus.

Britton said development of the preventive model is based on research the team is still gathering in the Kansas City metropolitan area through working with a wide variety of groups, including service providers, law enforcement, prosecutors, churches, organizations that work on immigration rights or migrant labor, and English-language learning classes.

Modern-day slavery and human trafficking manifests itself in various ways, including providing forced labor or sexual exploitation. Research estimates tens of thousands of people are living in the United States in some type of modern-day slavery.

So far, the ASHTI team’s research has identified several factors that can leave people vulnerable to human trafficking. People who have a limited knowledge of the English language are typically at risk because they often aren’t educated on the legal rights they have or because they have a more difficult time navigating the legal system. Poverty is also a significant factor, although other risk factors affect people from middle- or upper-class families as well.

Instability in one’s family structure or home life can create a major risk for someone to become a victim of exploitation.

Britton said the group is also looking at protective factors that can help victims of human trafficking safely free themselves.

“Either they had a fairly good education, or they knew that’s a pathway out of exploitation,” she said. “Education is very helpful.”

Often labor rights groups and educational programs provide assistance or enough awareness for certain victims to realize they are being exploited for work or otherwise, Britton said.

The research team considers a preventive model a key to combating human trafficking alongside prosecution. While there have been high-profile cases about trafficking rings, it’s still a lucrative business within the informal economy and an international issue.

For example, among the populations in the Kansas City research project, while most victims are from the United States, researchers have identified people from other countries, such as Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Moldova, Ukraine, the Philippines and many former Soviet republics.

“I think we all know that demand pushes trafficking. It’s interesting to me how much our participants in the study talked about that. If they could get rid of the demand, there would not be this recruitment and this cultivation of potential trafficked persons,” Britton said. “So dealing with the demand for sex trafficking, dealing with the demand for a poorly paid workforce, those types of things are driving this. And that’s really hard to address.”

In addition to research, ASHTI addresses teaching and advocacy. This includes supporting a Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic at the KU School of Law, which is seeking to create the first anti-human trafficking legal clinic based on such a partnership. In December, the MLP Clinic was selected as a finalist in the first round of the Partnership for Freedom, a national competition seeking innovative ideas to better care for survivors of modern-day slavery.

Britton hopes the broad approach of KU’s involvement and momentum such as from the 2013 conference can help the ASHTI project spread its preventive model on an international level and put modern-day slavery and trafficking even more in the public eye.

“People can be trafficked in plain sight — literally in plain sight,” she said. “If you’re aware of it, you start to look for it.”



KU in the news
The Daily MailSat, 04/25/2015
CNNMon, 04/13/2015
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here: http://bit.ly/1awodaa
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@NYTimes columnist @WCRhoden will speak at a symposium about race and sports April 23. http://t.co/UiKA9MYNv0 http://t.co/PHwCOHqcfD
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
26 prestigious Rhodes Scholars — more than all other Kansas colleges combined
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
46 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times