Students confront human trafficking

Slavery was abolished in 1865, but the truth is that slavery is still going on today. It isn’t the same as what it was nearly 150 years ago, but it is just as ghastly.
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery as described by Kentucky Rescue and Restore, a group dedicated to educating others about trafficking. Victims of trafficking are exploited for commercial sex or labor purposes and they can be women, men and children.

Worldwide there are between 600,000-800,000 people being trafficked across international borders annually, according to the U.S. Department of State. And the problem is closer than one might think.

In Kentucky, there have been 91 identified cases of human trafficking with 15 state and two federal indictments and charges, as reported by KY Rescue and Restore in July.
The state of Kentucky does have a law against human trafficking on the books – House Bill 350 – but once it passed through the house it died in the senate. Ohio does have a law in House Bill 262, or the Safe Harbor Law.

“You could have the most amazing law but if your law enforcement and prosecutors don’t know about it, it really doesn’t do anything,” said Mary Ritchie, the Human Trafficking Program coordinator at the Women’s Crisis Center in Covington, Ky.

The lack of education about human trafficking is a problem for agencies to fight the problem, as well is the lack of funding and resources for such a large scale issue. Currently, Kentucky has “no funding for the services of victims of human trafficking,” Ritchie said.

The Honors Program at Northern Kentucky University received a $7,500 grant this summer to begin work on a research project that will hopefully help educate and provide more information about human trafficking here in the Northern Kentucky area.

The research project will consist of surveys of police departments, hospitals and clinics and some social service agencies to find out what these places know about human trafficking.

“The surveys are [meant] to both educate the first responders and gather information on the numbers of victims,” Belle Zembrodt, interim director of the Honors Program, said.

Working with the Women’s Crisis Center, Zembrodt and the six students working on the project will focus on gathering their information from Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties this semester.

Students working on the project are learning how to identify the signs of human trafficking, the cycle of abuse the victims undergo and the psychology of the traffickers. They will have a few classes that go over what is going on in our area in terms of trafficking and then look at previous research on trafficking.

“We’re hoping this is a sustainable project, where we continue upgrading our information and upgrading what we’re doing,” Zembrodt said. “There will definitely be follow ups, giving [the information] back out to the police and letting them know what we found so they’re better able to provide services.”

There will be another class in the spring that will analyze the data collected and focus on the best way to use it. Zembrodt said they may even publish the information because in her eyes people are working in the dark when dealing with human trafficking in this area.

A human trafficking conference will be held on NKU’s campus in January, where professionals like Mary Ritchie will come together and share what information they have on the problem. The honors project won’t have their information ready to present just then but it will be ready in the spring.

The Honors Program isn’t the only group on NKU’s campus that is focusing on human trafficking this semester. Communication professor Sara Drabik is also working with her documentary production class to make at least four vignettes highlighting human trafficking.

“Ohio is a hotbed of human trafficking, especially up around the border with Canada and Toledo and up and down 75, there’s a lot of stuff that happens there that people aren’t aware of,” Drabik said.

Students in the documentary class will break into teams and each film will spotlight what is happening locally with trafficking. These short documentary-style films will either be shown online or in the Freedom Center in Cincinnati in its Slavery Today exhibit.
The vignettes will feature local organizations that help the victims of human trafficking in hopes that when finished, people will go to these groups to get involved somehow.

Drabik says her class’ project is still very up in the air but she would like to work with the Honors Program somewhere down the road.
“We’re excited to do something that will hopefully make a difference and actually be seen and used by people. To make some kind of positive change, even if its just building awareness which right now I think is the most important step. Having people realize its a problem because when you ask them to act on it they will,” Drabik said.