Stanford researchers fight human trafficking

Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that each year forces millions into lives as prostitutes, laborers, child soldiers, and domestic servants. Traffickers prey on the weak and vulnerable, targeting young victims with promises of a better life. This modern form of slavery impacts every continent and type of economy, while the industry continues to grow with global profits reaching nearly $32 billion annually. In spite of these mounting figures, prosecution and conviction rates are not increasing relative to the surge in these crimes. According to the U.S. State Department, for every 800 people trafficked in 2006, only one person was convicted.

As the size and scope of human trafficking increase, less is known about the root causes of human trafficking on this new scale. A better understanding of the conditions that give rise to human trafficking – income inequality, rural poor populations, cultural norms, and gender disparities – will bring the international community closer to curbing the growth of this criminal industry. Understanding how multi-lateral institutions – from the World Bank to the United Nations – may unwittingly encourage the industry will lead to more informed policies for its eradication.

The Program on Human Rights (PHR) at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law is launching a new research initiative on human trafficking to address these challenges and generate new knowledge on this issue of international concern. Working in collaboration with Stanford faculty and students, this project will draw on research underway across the university to create a forum on human trafficking. The goal is to produce collaborative research and policy recommendations to better address the multiple dimensions of human trafficking.

"This research collaborative will shift the agenda on human trafficking from one that has adopted a criminal-legal paradigm to one that focuses on all the pre-conditions for trafficking," said Helen Stacy, director of the Program on Human Rights. "Interdisciplinary tools drawing on law, health, gender, and psychology will introduce an integrated approach to this critical area of study."

The speaker series will begin Dec. 12 at a private research workshop featuring Madeleine Rees, the United Nation's representative in post-genocide Bosnia, and Laryssa Kondracki, director of The Whistleblower. Rees is known for her efforts to expose the U.N. for its failure to shut down brothels in Bosnia where they were actively used for human trafficking. The Whistleblower documents this story and helped ignite a debate at the U.N. over this problem.

The Dec. 12 workshop will bring together a multidisciplinary group of Stanford faculty, researchers, and students working on aspects of human trafficking in preparation for the launch of the 2012 speakers series offered in the winter quarter. The 2012 roster of speakers represent a diverse group of those advancing research, policy and activism on human trafficking.

Participants include: Rosi Orozco, Mexican congressional representative and anti-trafficking leader; Bradley Myles, executive director and CEO of Polaris-USA; and Dr. Mohammed Mattar, executive director of the Protection project at Johns Hopkins Univeristy. Stanford researchers will be paired with speakers to pursue original research on the causal factors impacting this field of study. 

The 2012 Human Trafficking is Global Slavery speakers series is funded by Diana Jenkins, founder of the Sanela Diana Jenkins Foundation for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The series is free and open to the public. It will meet on Tuesdays from Jan. 10 to Mar. 13 at the Bechtel Conference Center at Encina Hall, Stanford. It is available to Stanford students as a 1-unit course cross-listed under INTNLREL 110, IPS 271, and POLISCI204.