Workshop Explores Human Trafficking, a ‘Global Problem with Very Real Local Impacts’

by Jacqueline Morrison

On Friday, January 10, 2014 the Center for Global Justice at the S.J. Quinney College of Law hosted a workshop to explore the issue of human trafficking, a global problem with very real impacts in Utah. The event combined panel presentations from local advocates and officials, a keynote address from a renowned scholar, and a community workshop aimed at outreach and problem-solving.

After opening remarks by Interim Dean Bob Adler, actress Jordan Novtony read from the story of Holly Austin Smith, a survivor of child trafficking. Novotny’s reading set the tone for thoughtful, reflective discussion throughout the day. Following Novotny, Professor Erika George then moderated an exchange with panelists including Rep. Jennifer Seelig (D) of the Utah House of Representatives, Kirk Torgensen Chief Deputy Attorney General, Timothy Ballard of Operation Underground Railroad, and Lt. Fred Ross and Sgt. Michael Burbank of Salt Lake City Police Department.

According to George, “At the intersection of two interstates I-15 and I-80 Salt Lake City sits at a transit point for trafficking. Too often a trafficked individual is seen as a criminal, perceived to be a prostitute or an illegal immigrant when a closer look reveals that frequently they are victims of crime. For these reasons I believe it is important to empower the local community through educating the general public who may not be aware of the problem but may be well positioned to prevent it.” Panelists cited the need for increased awareness, communication, and coordination among government and community organizations and also highlighted the recent strides Utah has made to combat the trafficking that takes place within the state.

The lunch hour featured a keynote by Professor Sally Merry, a Professor of Anthropology at New York University, titled “The Seductions of Quantification: Human Rights, Trafficking, and the Rise of Indicator Culture.” This presentation was part of the International Law Colloquium organized by Professors Benedict Kingsbury and Tony Anghie.  Merry’s talk focused on the complications that arise from reliance on quantitative data in the setting of global governance, especially on data that is inherently difficult to capture like that on human trafficking.

The afternoon concluded with a community workshop attended by members of local and national organizations including the Asian Association of Utah, BackyardBroadcast, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake, Hill Air Force Base’s Human Trafficking Task Force Initiative, Holy Cross Ministries, the Homeless Youth Resource Center, the Inclusion Center, the Rape Recovery Center, the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Women’s Resource Center. Attendees engaged in dialog, discourse, and debate about existing barriers to eradication and ways to more effectively utilize the resources that exist to combat trafficking.

The event received coverage from local media outlets including the Deseret News and The Daily Utah Chronicle. National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is observed annually on January 11th and President Barack Obama recently declared January 2014 to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The Center for Global Justice at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, co-directed by Professors Erika George and Amos Guiora, focuses on exploring the role of law in elevating the human condition.

“Human Trafficking: A Global Issue with Local Impacts” was cosponsored by the College of Social Work and the Hinckley Institute of Politics and supported by the International Law Society and the Minority Law Caucus. Five students were instrumental in coordinating the day’s events: Jade Fisher (’15), Liesel LeCates (’14), Nubia Pena (’16), Oriene Shin (’14), and Margaret Vu (’14). After the event, Fisher reflected, “One of our main goals was to raise awareness of the existence of human trafficking within our own community. This was a great opportunity to not only raise awareness, but also bring the helping community together to identify gaps in the system and to workshop possible ways of meeting those needs.”