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7 Fields to Help End Human Trafficking

More than 40 million men, women, and children from all over the world are victims of human trafficking, according to data from the International Labour Organization. Comprising the inducing of people into commercial sex as well as into the performance of labor or services, human trafficking is a serious and grave violation of human rights; so much so that it’s addressed in three of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. If you are interested in joining the fight against human trafficking, there are many ways to do so, including universities’ initiatives to tackle the issue. To play an even greater role in the fight, consider pursuing studies in one of these seven fields.

Jul 30, 2020
  • Education
7 Fields to Help End Human Trafficking

1. Criminology

Criminology refers to the study of crime. US News & World Report explains, “A criminology major studies criminal behavior and its biological, psychological and social causes. Criminology majors get a broad education in the law, research methods, and sociology and psychology.” Coursework touches on everything from crime analysis to data science, and programs have increasingly included human trafficking in their curricula, as well.

Recently, two criminology professors from the University of Massachusetts Lowell were awarded $500,000 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) grants for their research into labor and sex trafficking. Assistant Professor Ryan Shields brings a public health perspective to his research, which attempts to learn more about victims of sex trafficking in order to help direct resources and interventions where they’re most needed. “These are kids who have been victimized and exploited in so many ways before they become victims of the commercial sex trade. The field can’t afford to lose that context and focus. We need to target interventions early,” Shields says.

2. Social Work

“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet basic and complex needs of all people, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty,” says the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Human trafficking victims land squarely in this category.

While social workers work with many different kinds of people, they play a pivotal role in helping human trafficking victims, starting with helping to identify them. This is especially important with child victims. Youth abuse pediatrician Angela Rabbitt insists, “[Social workers and other service providers] need to be aware of the scope of the problem, who they need to screen, and how to screen. Such knowledge is vital because they are often the first people to have the chance to talk to the youth alone and can identify victims.”

Once victims are identified, social workers continue to support them through the creation of empowerment plans connecting them with special services, programs, and resources. “Youths range in their responses to therapy, and things are going to be very different for each one. So we try to be really patient and meet them where they’re at,” says social worker Erin K. Wirsing, MSW.

3. Law

Legal studies focus on the meaning, practice, and institution of law. While criminal lawyers may be the first field of law that comes to mind when we think about law and human trafficking, lawyers in other areas can also take a stand. “Attorneys can take on human trafficking from many angles and use civil, criminal law and employment regulations to bring traffickers to justice,” asserts a piece in Lawyer Monthly.

More law schools are also prioritizing human trafficking in their curricula, including the University of Michigan Law School (Michigan Law), which launched the first-ever clinical law program dedicated solely to the issue of human trafficking, the Human Trafficking Clinic. One participant said of the new perspectives gained during the experience, “The clinic certainly enriched my learning in other law school classrooms by making me think critically about the role of race, class, and gender in the law. I think I saw vulnerability in a different way that was extremely beneficial to me."

Certainly, lawyers can be important advocates for human trafficking victims, but you don’t have to wait until graduation to get involved. Caitlyn Burnitis first learned about human trafficking in high school, eventually resolving to dedicate her life and career to raising awareness about the issue. As a third-year law student, she founded and served as president of the Miami Law Alliance Against Human Trafficking. “Our goal is to educate students and the community about this scourge and demonstrate how the legal field can play a major role in combating it,” Burnitis says.

4. Political Science

Political science is concerned with the theory and practice of government and politics across all levels. Studies in this area can help address the issue of human trafficking in many ways ranging from understanding why some victims are vulnerable to trafficking to evaluating and recommending policy solutions at the national and international levels.

Political scientists at Creighton University are working as part of a multi-disciplinary Human Trafficking Initiative (HTI) using data science to analyze the scope of human trafficking. “Their work provided Nebraska with the first empirical data on the commercial sex market in our state, which has helped the Women’s Fund inform policy change and identify solutions to support survivors in our community, “ said Meghan Malik, trafficking project manager for Women’s Fund of Omaha.

5. Journalism

Journalists gather, assess, create, and present news and information. As such, they are uniquely positioned to shine the light on human trafficking while simultaneously improving public understanding of this “hidden crime.” By covering human rights topics, they engage millions of people and create a louder, collective voice.

Take the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), which celebrated its 20th anniversary in June of 2020. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says, “Whether used to raise awareness, spark dialogue, spur action, or create a system of accountability, the TIP Report has served to reinforce global anti-trafficking norms and ideals. At a time when many governments denied the existence of human trafficking in all its forms, the TIP Report became a standard-bearer for the principles enshrined in the TVPA and the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol (Palermo Protocol).”

6. Development Studies

“Development Studies is a multi- and inter-disciplinary field of study (i.e. not a discipline) that seeks to understand social, economic, political, technological and cultural aspects of societal change, particularly in developing countries,” asserts a paper presented to the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) Executive Committee. While human trafficking is a global problem which is present everywhere, it occurs most frequently in less developed countries.

Development studies graduates are qualified to work in a variety of careers across many areas, including human trafficking. Common approaches to addressing human traffic are from criminal law, human rights, and labor perspectives. However, law and social justice professor Prabha Kotiswaran proposes a development approach focused on “addressing root causes rather than an ex post facto approach” may be preferable.

7. Migration Studies

Migration studies looks at human migration through an interdisciplinary lens comprising anthropology, history, economics, law, sociology and post-colonial studies. According to International Organization for Migration (IOM) publication Migrants and their Vulnerability, migrants are especially susceptible to human trafficking for many reasons.

18 years old guy defends himself with his palm

Migration studies can provide invaluable insights into why, where, and which migrants are vulnerable to human trafficking. It also examines the factors which specifically enable migrant abuse and exploitation. This understanding can lead to better outcomes, including better protections for victims and the vulnerable, reduced capacity and opportunity for offenders, and increased capacity to support guardians and first responders. Additionally, research into migration studies can fill critical knowledge gaps.

Human trafficking is one of the most meaningful, challenging, and fulfilling subjects you can study. If you would like to devote your career to improving the lives of the millions of human trafficking victims and to have a hand in eradicating this blight on society, studies in one of these seven fields can help you make a difference.

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Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.