At the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, we believe that community-based research and data-driven insights are critical in strengthening the movement to end human trafficking. Data have the power to support decision-making with evidence, reduce uncertainty, enhance our collective capacity to collaborate, and build upon the strength and resilience of communities.
Our research projects published in 2013 and 2019 are known as The Colorado Projects, and Research Director and Co-Founder Dr. Annjanette “AJ” Alejano-Steele is currently stewarding the third iteration for publication in 2023. She oversees the incredible multi-sector collaborators in this endeavor (close to 35 people!), including Research Assistants Natcha Srimaneerungroj and Nevita George.
Community Collaboration Strengthens Research Findings
AJ explains how conducting research from a nonprofit perspective is different from how it’s traditionally done: “We apply our academic research training as we do our best to support communities with the tools that they already proudly possess to address human trafficking.” Conducting research in close collaboration with communities is central to our mission. “One significant effort we have made is to co-design and conduct research that is inclusive of survivors and community leaders. We need that mix of ideas in the way we conduct research to help end human trafficking.”
Data have helped us identify which populations are at risk of exploitation, how and where trafficking shows up in our state, and what gaps in survivor services need to be addressed. Intertwined with essential community voices and perspectives, these research findings have resulted in statewide Action Plans that provide direction for more efficient usage of resources across coordinated and streamlined efforts, with the goal of improving assistance to survivors of human trafficking in Colorado.
A Renewed Focus For Colorado Project 2023
Reflecting on the need for an updated Colorado Project, AJ explains, “The anti-trafficking response over the last ten years has changed, and the questions stemming from our original question, ‘What will it take to end human trafficking in Colorado?’ have evolved over time.” She specifies, “As we continue to grapple with global health, social changes, and climate crises, we are considering these questions this go around:
- What is the nature of the human trafficking response across Colorado?
- How do we work together to comprehensively end human trafficking in Colorado?
- How do trust, equity, and effectiveness affect collaborative efforts to comprehensively end human trafficking in Colorado?
- How do root causes factor into Colorado’s anti-trafficking response?
The Colorado Project 2023 aims to not only understand ways to reduce trafficking from criminal justice and human services frameworks, but will pilot statewide conversations to examine the root causes that create risk and vulnerability to trafficking in our communities. “By more fully understanding how individuals experience trafficking and better understand how we reduce those vulnerabilities, we hope to reveal additional ways to move the proverbial needle on ending human trafficking beyond a criminal justice-focused approach,” says AJ.
So how does research like The Colorado Project create this impact? AJ believes that “research endeavors allow us to move beyond best guesses and assumptions to make data-informed decisions and spark community conversations to co-design an anti-trafficking response.” She adds, “By conducting research multiple times, we are also able to look at the evolution of the field, where the strengths need to be scaled and where the gaps remain in anti-trafficking response.”
A Roadmap to a Place Without Exploitation
Research is an important factor in driving change, explains Research Assistant Natcha Srimaneerungroj: “Our attempts to end human trafficking without extensive research would be like driving somewhere without a map. Research provides us with a roadmap and specific steps to get to our destination, which is a place without human exploitation. Research is the best way to get to our destination the fastest, with the best fuel efficiency and the least amount of confusion.”
Nevita George, Research Assistant, adds, “Research serves as a bridge between the desire for action and the need for data-driven procedures to carry a goal to fruition. I consider research to be a mechanism of change and innovation, especially the form of research we are conducting (i.e, community-based participatory research).” Nevita stresses that the method in which research is done matters. “Broadly speaking, research hasn’t always been the most inclusive — its history mired within the ivory tower. Community-based participatory research takes another approach, and its roots in equity serve to uplift community voice within research.”
As a result of the Colorado Project 2023, Nevita hopes “to see increased statewide conversation on the importance of maintaining intentional partnerships that propel anti-trafficking initiatives.” She explains, “A collaborative mentality is essential to conducting human rights work, and I believe that the constructs highlighted in this project (i.e., trust, equity, and effectiveness) are core tenets of every successful relationship.”
When asked what she hopes to see as a result of this research, Natcha said, “I envision survivor voices leading a multidisciplinary team towards asking the right questions, interpreting data through the appropriate lenses, and producing accessible and actionable ways to tackle the issue of human trafficking in Colorado.” She adds, “I’m also hopeful that we will understand more about the complex ways in which direct service providers, lawyers, law enforcement personnel, amongst many other changemakers are working together.”
Motivation to Advance Human Rights and End Human Trafficking
Like each of our partners and every supporter committed to the movement to end human trafficking, AJ, Nevita, and Natcha each have their own motivation for participating in this research. AJ shares, “My ‘why’ for the work I do in this world stems from my immigrant Filipino identity. I want safe communities for my family, and for immigrant families globally.”
She continues, “I see the risks and barriers for people who hope for better lives and opportunities for themselves and their loved ones. I am tired of hearing far too many painful stories of exploitation of people of color, and the ways in which brown and black bodies have been used, thrown away, and dismissed. I do this work because there are people being trafficked who look like me and do not look like me; my hope is to help make significant advances in stopping this human rights abuse.”
Nevita’s motivation comes from her passion for human rights. “My interest in anti-human trafficking initiatives stems from a desire to protect our human right to choose. Human trafficking is one of the most violent offenders of preserving this right.” She adds, “I believe that at a minimum, we all deserve to maintain power over our livelihoods, and that the trajectory of our lives should be steered by us alone.” And when the freedom of choice is protected for all people? “Creativity and innovation will flourish within our societies.”
A brighter future for all is on the horizon. “This work gives me hope because I catch glimpses of a world where our basic human rights are guaranteed,” says Natcha. “Reminders such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic tell us a more realistic story of how our world currently functions, which is to serve privileged individuals rather than every single one of us. I feel intimidated by large goals such as ending human trafficking, but I truly believe that small changes have the potential to trigger transformative change.”
We all have the opportunity to make a positive impact in eliminating human exploitation by taking simple actions. Surrounded by phenomenal staff, partners, and supporters who are equally motivated, we can make social change of great magnitude — resulting in safer communities with access to much-needed resources.
Stay tuned for the Colorado Project 2023 this coming spring! Sneak peek: you’ll learn about the comprehensive statewide response to end human trafficking in Colorado, the ways in which task forces operate, and how trust, equity, and effectiveness facilitate (and hinder) a community response.
Support research initiatives that will strengthen the movement to end human trafficking! Here are the top three ways you can make a difference today:
- LEARN. There is so much to learn (and continue learning) about the complexities of human trafficking, as global and social conditions change. Check out the various research reports that we have produced over the years.
- INTERN WITH US. Want to work on research projects directly? Consider applying for our Leadership Development Program to get involved with our research.
- DONATE. Your donation will support community-based research to advance local action. Make a gift to sustain our research program at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking into the future.