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Bentley University Students Assist Massachusetts Governor’s Council with Human Anti-Trafficking Policymaking
A team of Bentley University student researchers from the Bentley Service-Learning Center and the University Honors Program is working with the Governor's Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence to combat human trafficking in Massachusetts. Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. The students' findings were presented to the Council on May 4, 2011, at the State House in Boston. A final report will be published in June.
"As of May 2011, Massachusetts stands as one of only four U.S. states that currently lacks legislation specifying human trafficking as a crime, and we are ranked by the Polaris Project in the bottom tier of states in its commitment to combating trafficking," says Jeff Gulati, Bentley associate professor of political science and the study's faculty adviser.
Although there are many forms of trafficking-- for labor and organs, for instance - the Bentley report focused primarily on the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
"We estimate that between 1,500 and 1,800 people were victims of human trafficking in Massachusetts in 2010," Gulati notes. "This amounts to the equivalent figure for forcible rape cases reported and ten times the rate of murder and manslaughter in the Commonwealth. Victims of trafficking crimes are at high-risk of becoming recruiters for traffickers of new victims and have children who are at high-risk of becoming involved in the sex industry."
According to Gulati, while there has been anti-trafficking policy activity in the U.S. and initiatives aimed at increasing international cooperation to combat trafficking and raise awareness, there is little research to evaluate recent policy initiatives and programs meant to combat human trafficking and address the effect on its victims.
"This is particularly problematic as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is coming up for reauthorization in Congress this year, and legislators are looking to recent research to help identify effective efforts," he notes.
Bentley students enrolled in the Honors Group Capstone course helped fill this void by devoting their thesis to assist the Governor's Council, policymakers, law enforcement, and service providers in becoming more informed about the issue and the effectiveness of current policies and programs related to law enforcement and prosecution; victim protection programs; and prevention. Created by Governor Patrick in 2007, the Council is particularly interested in supporting a new "safe harbor" law and other policies that address the issue of domestic trafficking of minors for the sex industry.
"The key to this project is raising awareness - legislators, businesses, healthcare providers, and the public-at-large are all impacted in some way by human trafficking" says Bentley senior Katelyn Horowitz, project manager. "It is difficult to get individuals, most of whom have no idea that this happens right here in Massachusetts, to take action without a solid understanding the problem."
The presentation contributes new information to evaluate current policies, and details specific policy recommendations and alternative ways of thinking about the problem. Researchers recommended focusing initial legislation on designating human trafficking as a crime and imposing lengthy sentences for convicted traffickers rather than social services or prevention programs, since the former requires less financial support.
Other highlights include:
- Prosecution: Increase the number of those convicted for soliciting prostitutes to attend a "john school," adding a location in Boston where most trafficking- and sex-related crimes occur.
- Protection: Share information with court advocates to ensure that they are familiar with the law and victims' rights, in particular immigration law and rights for victims trafficked into the United States.
- Prevention: Establish a designee to help businesses implement policies to prevent trafficking, including: monitoring their supply chain; suspending or terminating contracts with third-party vendors and suppliers that use trafficked labor; purchasing from fair trade organizations or companies with anti-trafficking policies; and providing training for employees in the travel industry to recognize signs of trafficking victims.
"This class truly opened my eyes to the terrifyingly widespread practice of this modern-day slavery," says Horowitz, who is majoring in Accounting. "I particularly appreciated the opportunity to study its relationship to the world of business ... a relationship that not many know exists."
Among the people on hand for the May 4 presentation were the Council's Executive Director, Sheridan Haines, and representatives from agencies and organizations such as the Massachusetts State Police Missing Child Unit, Boston Police Department and its Human Trafficking Task Force; Children's Advocacy Center of Suffolk County; City of Boston Women's Commission; Jane Doe Inc.; Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security; and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The Yawkey Foundations have recognized Bentley University’s longstanding commitment to service-learning and awarded the university $500,000 to educate students to effectively lead nonprofit organizations and expand student efforts to help community groups.