Law students recognize National Human Trafficking Prevention Month with awareness week

Melina Khan, News Editor

With National Human Trafficking Prevention Month coming to a close, Quinnipiac University law students utilized the first week of the spring semester to focus on demystifying human trafficking for the community. 

The School of Law’s Human Trafficking Prevention Project held its annual Human Trafficking Awareness Week beginning Jan. 24. It aimed to educate community members about human trafficking. 

A variety of events were held throughout the week, including two panels co-sponsored by the Connecticut Bar Foundation and the Connecticut Bar Association and a training on spotting signs of human trafficking. The HTPP also set up educational tabling in the School of Law and hosted a trivia night on myths usually spread through the media regarding human trafficking. 

Members of Quinnipiac University’s Human Trafficking Prevention Project held an informational tabling in the School of Law during its annual awareness week. (Daniel Passapera)

“We make panels and we do a training all to kind of educate the legal community and the general community about what human trafficking is, because there’s a lot of myths out there,” said Kaylyn Fagan, a third-year law student and executive chair of HTPP. “So (Human Trafficking Awareness Week) acts like general education and also a little bit of myth-busting, and that’s why it’s important.”

Sheila Hayre, a visiting associate professor of law and the chair of the Connecticut Bar Association’s committee on human trafficking, is HTPP’s faculty advisor. She said HTPP initially started to train hospitality workers how to identify and report the signs of trafficking.

“That’s how (HTPP) got started, but we realized that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about human trafficking more generally among the general public, and so we decided to sort of branch out and spend a week sort of getting people to come and participate in discussions,” Hayre said.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 188 contacts made by victims or potential victims of human trafficking to their organization referencing Connecticut in 2020. 

The awareness week’s inaugural event was a virtual panel discussing sex trade reform and the criminalization of prostitution. This conversation was particularly significant for HTPP, said the organization’s awareness week co-chair and third-year law student Kathleen Lima.

“We’ve been trying to do a panel about sex work for a really long time because it’s so connected to trafficking … and it’s been very contentious and it still is,” Lima said. “We were lucky enough to get two amazing advocates and a wonderful moderator together to finally get this panel together to have this discourse without being really upset … it’s great to be able to just bring it to one room.” 

Erin Williamson, vice president of global programs and strategy for Love146, a nonprofit organization that works to end child trafficking and exploitation, moderated the event. Trafficking advocates Mary Speta and Kate D’Adamo spoke during the panel. Speta is the chief impact officer for Amirah, Inc., which supports women who have survived prostitution, sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. D’Adamo is a consultant for Reframe Health and Justice, an agency that provides social injustice harm reduction solutions.

The conversation focused on the intersection of sex work and trafficking and the division of the subject within the field of trafficking research. Williamson said that there is general agreement among experts in the field that as it stands in the U.S., the full criminalization of prostitution is not working to eliminate or drastically reduce trafficking. However, aside from agreeing that it should not be legalized, she said there is no consensus among experts about the extent to which prostitution should be criminalized.

In the U.S., prostitution is fully criminalized, meaning that all aspects of it are illegal, including the buying, selling, organizing or trafficking of sex. However, other countries follow different models, including partial decriminalization, full decriminalization and full legalization of prostitution. Speta and D’Adamo explained the implications of the different legal stances against prostitution during the panel. 

Fagan said the panel on sex trade reform was essential to educate people, especially those in the legal community, about the different policy models.

“A lot of people don’t feel like they know enough about the different models of sex work reform to really have an educated opinion on what they think works best,” Fagan said. “And so, if (sex reform legislation) comes up on the table, then there’s going to be organizations that need kind of an educated opinion to advocate either for or against legislation.”

The other panel held during the week focused on labor trafficking and featured panelists who have experienced labor trafficking firsthand.

“We really wanted to place an emphasis on labor trafficking because labor trafficking is one of the things that no one talks about,” Lima said. “Labor trafficking is extremely under researched … it’s never at the forefront when you think of trafficking, and it’s one of the most prevalent that we see, even in Connecticut.”

Fagan said highlighting labor trafficking was important because there is a common misconception that it only applies to farm workers, when it happens often with domestic servitude situations.

“It’s a really dark form of trafficking,” Fagan said. “It’s just as exploitative as other forms of trafficking that kind of gets swept under the rug. A lot of people just don’t think it happens here, so we really wanted to bring that to light.”

In addition to the two panels held throughout the week, HTPP also held a training on detecting signs of human trafficking and how to report it. The introductory training mirrored some of the same methods taught in the training the group does for hospital or hotel workers, Lima said.

“We always advocate, no matter what the situation is, you don’t intervene as a person, because a lot of the time — you’re going to get this in the trainings — they might not know that they are being trafficked, they might be hurt if you intervene,” Lima said “There’s a bunch of different situations that can really impact that and so that’s what we try to get off to everyone.”

Fagan said the week was particularly significant for the Quinnipiac community, both within the law circle and beyond.

“I find personally that a lot of people in our age group, that college age … there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet about what trafficking is … so I think it’s extra important that we speak to the Quinnipiac community and our demographic because we’re surrounded by I think maybe a lot more misinformation than older folks are,” Fagan said.