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Research for Change

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Graduate student John Brown is the founder of The Correlates of Human Trafficking Project (CHTP), a federated research project housed at the Center for Peace Democracy and Development at UMB. Brown is a 37 year old husband and father, busy finishing his studies while working as the patient placement coordinator at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. In many ways Brown is a typical UMB student, and like many UMB students he has started something extraordinary.

Brown first became familiarized with human trafficking in 2006, while serving in the National Guard. “I was deployed to Kosovo,” Brown said. “A few of my fellow service members had run into human traffickers while on peace enforcement operations. . . . I had a job teaching English to Serbian youths around the age of high school students, and so I asked them about it in a conversational way and by and large they described it as ‘the risk of doing business.'”

Brown explained that one of the most common ways people end up victims of human trafficking is by “bait and switch.” Human traffickers often set up business fronts. Under the guise of a travel or job placement agency, the traffickers offer work and prosperity in a more economically stable country. They offer to handle all the paperwork, including passports and plane tickets. As Brown put it, “They offer something that is too good to be true, but because of the desperation of the person’s current situation, they take the gamble.”

This is just one of the many ways people become victims of human trafficking. Traffickers also practice outright kidnapping, but it is mostly about coercion and vulnerability. “For example, young runaways, victims of sexual abuse, [and] the homeless are targets of human traffickers because they are more easy to manipulate,” Brown explained. “The more desperate a person’s situation is, the more likely they are to accept a life of servitude.”

Brown’s experience in Kosovo left a lasting impression. He got the chance to act on his experience while taking a research methodology class. “We had to design a study, so I decided to focus on human trafficking,” Brown said. “What I discovered was there were a lot of people doing research on the subject, but they were working very privately. I got the idea to bring these people together and focus their individual efforts toward a solution. That was the genesis of The Correlates of Human Trafficking Project.”

CHTP is about empowering advocacy through data collection and analysis on the social, political, cultural and economic linkages between discrete aspects of the human trafficking enterprise. In Brown’s words, “We start by examining specific incidents and try to work them into the larger social environment. What we hope to discover in this process is what enables the vulnerability that in turn enables human trafficking.”

CHTP searches for relevant research projects that are already being done on human trafficking and related phenomenon, such as homelessness. By compiling the research, CHTP hopes to provide advocacy groups with real world statistics.

Brown explained the importance of such statistics. “Anyone can claim that there is a causal relationship between homelessness and human trafficking. Showing just how big an affect homelessness has on the human trafficking industry, or showing how drug policy effects the industry or how certain economic policies effect it. We want to prove these correlations academically.”

Brown’s work really began when he was introduced to Christine Cutting, CHTP’s program director and UMB grad student. The two started working over the summer by reaching out to support groups and fellow grad students. By August, Brown and Cutting had received the full support of the Center for Peace Democracy and Development at UMB. Official support legitimized the project and enabled them to reach out to other universities. The CHTP is currently partners with organizations from Bentley, Boston College, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

CHTP is also reaching out to the undergraduate community in the hopes of creating a community of future scholars and activists concerned with the problem of human trafficking.

Acknowledgements

The CHTP would not exist without the help of the following people: Laura Ribitzky, grad student in the Dispute Resolution Program, Sheilah Davidson, recent graduate of the Dispute Resolution Program, Sofie Suter, grad student in the Dispute Resolution Program, Supervisory Special Agent Cynthia Deitle, an FBI who is consulting CHTP on the project, Christina Bain, the director of the human trafficking program at the Carr Center for Human Rights, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Thomas Crea, associate professor of social work, Boston College, who is advising CHTP on social work analysis.