A Professor’s Reflections on the Human Trafficking Symposium

By Cathleen McGrath, Ph.D., Professor of Management, College of Business Administration

Human Trafficking

What do I know?

What do I think I know?

Who are the victims of human trafficking?

Who are the perpetrators of human trafficking?

Who are the people fighting human trafficking?

Attending the lectures was the beginning of the conversation. Getting to know more. The conversation begins before the symposium and continues during the symposium.

What I Did Not Know About Human Trafficking

When I learned that the CSJ Center for Reconciliation and Justice was planning a symposium exploring local and global issues of human trafficking I knew that I wanted to be involved and to invite my students to be involved as well. In preparation for the January symposium, Sr. Judith Royer invited my class to join her class for a presentation on human trafficking facilitated by the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). We were honored to be part of a group of approximately sixty people who listened to the stories of different survivors of labor and sex trafficking. During the Fall semester, I mentored two groups of students who studied aspects of human trafficking that related to business in the Los Angeles area. One group explored issues of awareness of human trafficking among university students. Students reported that they were aware of issues of human trafficking. However, they found that students’ perceptions of the magnitude of people being trafficked was very inaccurate. Students were as likely to overestimate as to underestimate the number of cases of human trafficking occurring in California. When asked who was likely to be a victim of trafficking, students overestimated the likelihood that a victim would be a minor and underestimated the likelihood that a victim would have U.S. citizenship. After interviewing people who work with survivors of human trafficking in Los Angeles, this group began to design an approach to education about human trafficking for college students. A second group of students focused on the question of how business owners and members of the business community could ensure that they were not benefitting from human trafficking in their supply chains. This group interviewed business owners to learn more about real world approaches to the prevention of human trafficking. I had bid farewell to my students before Winter Break and told them that I hoped to see them at the symposium in January.

When the CJS symposium commenced in January 2017 I was ready to continue my own and my students exploration into issues of human trafficking, especially from a business perspective. The first session that I attended was Trafficking 101 with Terry Coonan, Executive Director of Florida State University for Advancement of Human Rights. This session provided a good introduction to significant issues of human trafficking. And more importantly to me, Dr. Coonan was able to open our hearts to the human face of victims of human trafficking. He shared photographs of the places where people who were trafficked were living, photographs of their possessions. As I listened to his talk, I began to really see the people who had been moved from their homes, across state lines, to a place they did not know. I saw people who could be certain of nothing. At any moment they might be moved, they might be abused, they might be abandoned. Sitting in the reality of their lives was painful – I felt their loss of human dignity. And I began to understand even more the importance of listening to the stories of survivors of human trafficking. As I listened to their stories, as I learned of their journey to recover from their experience, I learned a great deal about what it means to be human and to be in relation with others – for good and for bad.

The discussion of TRAFFICKCAM by Kimberly Ritter, director of Development for the Exchange Initiative provided an opportunity to build on Dr. Coonan’s talk. We learned more stories about people who had been trafficked. These stories were mostly of young women as well. I was interested to learn the extent to which traffickers use fear, shame, and uncertainty to trap the people they are trafficking. As I listened to Ms. Ritter, I was struck by the feeling in the room that this is a problem that affects everyone – Ms. Ritter, herself was so clearly affected by what she knew about trafficking. And as we experienced this sense of concern, Ms. Ritter offered a bit of hope. Her organization, The Exchange Initiative, has created a data base of photographs of hotel rooms that can be used to determine the location of sex trafficking victims. Anyone who travels can help by uploading photographs of their hotel room to the database. The Exchange Initiative worked with hospitality industry experts, law enforcement professional, computer scientists, and other people to develop methods of identifying location based upon multiple pieces of data that are provided by a photograph. This is an example of a project that many of us can contribute to in order to stop human trafficking.

Through the sessions I attended, I was able to meet with people who approach issues of human trafficking from several different perspectives. Throughout the symposium, my primary awareness was toward the victims of human trafficking themselves. I learned a great deal about their experiences. Next I learned so much about the people who work directly with victims of human trafficking. I noted an intensity in their discussions that went beyond a general commitment to work and helped me to better understand what vocation means. And finally, I met many people who worked in the governmental and industry sectors who are starting to focus more on stopping human trafficking. The work that I learned about in the business sector was primarily related to creating awareness, insuring that one’s own company was not unknowingly participating in human trafficking by employing individuals who were trafficked, and finally, by providing information and expertise that was a critical component of preventing human trafficking. As the symposium unfolded, I first learned so much more about human trafficking and the victims themselves and then moved toward understanding some things that we as business people might be able to do to address human trafficking and support victims of human trafficking.

To learn more about the Human Trafficking Symposium check out the CSJ Center for Reconciliation and Justice Fall 2017 newsletter here.