COPH co-sponsors forum on human trafficking

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“We must be efficient. Lives are on the line.”

Those are the words of Amanda Catarzi, an anti-sex trafficking prevention specialist and a panelist at the Global Innovation to Disrupt Human Trafficking forum, held March 26 at the Marshall Student Center and attended by about 100 USF students, faculty and community leaders.

The forum was co-presented by the USF College of Public Health (COPH), USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships and Triumph Over Trafficking, a USF student organization with the mission of raising awareness of human trafficking.

The keynote speaker was Marina Colby, a human rights lawyer and international development professional working to advance inclusive and sustainable development practices and initiatives around the world.

“What is the scope and scale of human trafficking? The best data we have is that over 40 million people from every part of the globe are currently victims of modern-day slavery,” said Colby. “Sixteen million are forced into labor in the private sector [construction, manufacturing, domestic work, etc.] and five million are forced into commercial sex exploitation. Four million are in state-sanctioned forced labor. Fifteen million are in forced marriages.”

Keynote speaker Marina Colby shows a slide of a migrant fisherman who was forced into labor and made to work, even after he suffered a devastating hand injury on the job. (Photo by Katlyn Kurtz)

Colby put a face to the statistics when she talked about a Burmese migrant worker who was one of 2,000 working on a Thai fishing boat that ultimately ended up on a remote Indonesian island. The worker had one finger ripped off from a fishing net and three others that were crushed. When he and his fellow fishermen were finally rescued from the island, he received care for his fingers and was then sent back to the ship to work. The majority of those rescued, said Colby, had papers that were falsified by the Thai government.

“There’s rampant corruption,” said Colby, “from recruitment to employment that leads to enslavement.”

What innovations can be used to disrupt human trafficking?

Colby emphasized holding corporate actors accountable for their human rights violations and pressing governments to inspect for these wrongdoings. She also noted the development of mobile apps that empower workers by allowing them to share information about legitimate and illegitimate employment recruiters and workers’ rights.

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of community engagement work to identify both sex and labor traffickers,” commented Colby. “It begins in your own community. Be engaged. Keep up with emerging trends. And immerse yourself in the study of all forms of human trafficking.”

After presentations from student leaders of Triumph Over Trafficking and Dr. Jill McCracken, a USF St. Petersburg associate professor of rhetoric and gender studies, there was a panel discussion involving law enforcement and intelligence and another one focused on community innovation. Both were followed by table workshops.

The third panel discussion of the day centered on innovation and academic research and featured a number of USF faculty members, including Dr. Anthony Masys, a COPH associate professor and director of global disaster management, humanitarian relief and homeland security.

Anthony Masys, PhD, takes part in a panel discussion with other USF faculty on innovation and academic research in relation to human trafficking. (Photo courtesy of Katlyn Kurtz)

Masys gave an overview of the USF Interdisciplinary Academic Task Force on Human Trafficking, launched in January. The task force brings together people from across USF, including those in the social sciences, computer science, public health, criminology and intelligence studies.

“The purpose of the task force,” said Masys, “is to share our information and consolidate it.”

The task force is actually a byproduct of a COPH human trafficking project that examined what Masys calls “complexity theory and systems mapping.”

“We looked at human trafficking from three different views,” he explained. “First was the strategic view—what is the trafficker’s motivation and goal? Next was the capability view—what does the trafficker need to operate the business? Lastly, we looked at the operational view—how does the trafficker operationalize the business model in terms of advertising, recruitment, etc.?”

Other innovations presented included training medical students on how to identify victims of human trafficking; program evaluations of groups like Selah Freedom, a national organization fighting sex trafficking; and a broader view of what a person who is trafficked looks like (i.e., not only a runway teenage girl abusing drugs).

“The purpose of this forum is to go beyond human trafficking 101,” said Maria Trogolo, of the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships and one of the organizers of the event. “It is to explore familiar problems from new vantage points and bring new voices to the table. It is in coming together as a community that we can work toward solving this problem.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health