My name is Kristen Anna, and I am a research intern at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT). My experience participating in LCHT’s Leadership Development Program this summer has been fascinating, eye-opening, occasionally confusing, and wonderful.
The main reason I was drawn to LCHT was because I was on the search for something. I was fortunate enough to have past experience in research. When completing my undergraduate degree at Colorado State University, I helped analyze a program which aimed to increase the health of female sex workers in Nepal. Supporting the research on the project was incredible, and I was eager to see where it would lead. However, once the data was analyzed and the project presented, that was the end of it. Unfortunately, this can happen with a lot of research projects in academic settings. Funds run out, students complete their dissertations, and the engagement ends.
In many ways, this is what led me to the Laboratory. Not only was I eager to continue working in the fight against human trafficking, but I was also curious to see how research could be turned into action. Ultimately, I was asking: what long-term difference can research actually make?
Escaping the Ivory Tower
I joined LCHT this summer eager to explore that question, but I didn’t actually know what to expect. I knew many of the logistical steps of conducting research- interviewing, transcribing, coding and so forth. However, LCHT’s Leadership Development Program has shown me that to create a movement, you’re going to need a whole lot more than just research.
Over the last two months, I’ve been fortunate to receive a multifaceted experience. I’ve participated in LCHT’s efforts to work with healthcare providers to increase awareness and training within hospitals. This was an approach I had not even considered, until I learned that existing research suggests that 80-90% of all human trafficking victims come into contact with a healthcare provider during their time when they are trafficked.
I also was happy to try something I had never done before: street outreach. The interns and I joined LCHT’s Action Plan Manager Mary Landerholm and provided food, hygiene products, and information to people experiencing homelessness in Denver. I admit I was a bit nervous to do this, considering how people experiencing homelessness are perceived. However, actually sitting and having conversations with them was both humbling and eye-opening. I listened to their concerns, their jokes, and their life stories. They were humanized for me, no longer some stereotype peddled by society. To actually be out in the community with those highly vulnerable to trafficking connected the research I had done to the people it could actually affect.
Perhaps my greatest area of participation this summer has been with Colorado Project 2.0 (CP2.0). CP2.0 is the replication of LCHT’s original Colorado Project at its five-year mark. It’s an exciting and ambitious project that is aiming to see what community efforts exist across the state of Colorado to combat trafficking. We’ve been going through over a hundred organizational interviews and focus group discussions to help us learn more about each community LCHT is working with. Later this year, LCHT will produce a new action plan along with specific community profiles containing information from CP2.0 tailored to support local efforts. So, stay tuned!
A Part of the Movement
While my internship with LCHT isn’t over yet, I feel that I already have so many tools to help me become a leader in the community. What has been the most helpful is the staff’s willingness to include us in all aspects of LCHT’s work. They are always happy to let us join in on events and the conversations. It really feels as if you’re a part of the work. There’s no coffee fetching here!
So, did I find the answer I was looking for? My resounding answer would be yes. I realized that research is vital to understanding a problem. However, it cannot exist in a vacuum. To actually make a difference, you have to leave the ivory tower and get involved on the ground. You must work with others, providers and survivors alike, to hear more perspectives and ideas you would have never thought of before. I now have more knowledge about other organizations, promising practices, and community efforts to deal with this widespread issue.
Before, human trafficking felt like a massive problem to me, unknown and unsolvable. It’s still massive, but now I’ve realized that there are so many people out there eager to tackle the issue as well. My internship will end, but I am excited to apply the knowledge I have gained this summer to be more than just a researcher. I plan to be part of the movement.