This month we’re proud to welcome Kara Napolitano to the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking as our newest staff member! Kara is joining LCHT as a Program Specialist and will support critical areas of training, partnership, the hotline, and more. We sat down for a brief conversation on her background and what led her to this work.
Hello Kara and welcome! People may not know that you actually have a history of working with us. Tell us a little bit of that history, and some of the specific ways that you’ve been involved in our work in the past.
I was first introduced to LCHT’s work while I was getting my Master’s at DU and working with the Human Trafficking Center (HTC). HTC and LCHT are allies in the anti-human trafficking movement and have a strong working relationship. I knew right away I wanted to learn more about LCHT and get involved. I pursued an internship and was accepted as a Development Intern in LCHT’s Leadership Development program in January 2015. After completing that program, I was asked (and was really hoping they would ask) to stay on as a contracted grant writer. Since then I have tried to gain as much experience at LCHT as possible by volunteering to support various projects, attending task force meetings and trainings, contributing to online media, and participating in funding campaigns…all the while plotting how I might be able to join this organization full time.
You’ve spent a lot of time studying and working on human trafficking, and more broadly human rights. Why was this an issue that emerged in your life to the point that you wanted to invest in it professionally?
To be honest, I have pretty much always known I wanted to leave the world better than how I found it. Though I admit I often had no idea what that would entail or how to pursue such a lofty goal. My education focus at first was environmental, however it wasn’t until after I graduated and started traveling overseas that I discovered that environmentalism is inextricably linked to human rights. From there it was a natural progression from studying forests and soil to working with the humans who steward the land. I was first introduced to the crime of human trafficking in northern Uganda where I met child soldiers and their families on the long road to recovery. Learning more about the crime only made me more convinced that there was no other path for me.
You’ve had the opportunity to travel pretty extensively around the world. How else did those experiences help shape how you view this crime?
I’ve never really had to communicate these thoughts into words so bear with me. I guess that visiting mostly developing countries as well as parts of the US that face extreme poverty has shown me how hunger and desperation can sometimes affect our humanity. It put into perspective for me how far people will go to feed their families or try to give their children a better life — they will do things and put themselves in situations I had never dreamed of until witnessing it first-hand. This creates immense vulnerability as well as people willing to prey on that vulnerability. I don’t judge and nothing much surprises me anymore. I just think, how far would I be willing to go to protect my sister or feed my starving children? It helps me to put into perspective the systemic causes of this crime, what role I play as a consumer in the US, and what I can do to contribute to its end.
A follow up… how many countries have you actually been to? What’s your current top three?
I’ve been to a few countries…I don’t have an exact count, more than 100. My top three? This is hard and I could probably talk about this all day but…I loved Syria so much, incredibly rich history, diverse landscape and people, totally amazing. Myanmar is up there, such an interesting place politically and culturally. Now that I’ve mentioned two places that are having some serious problems right now, perhaps I should throw one in there that is more uplifting? I love the Himalayas and had such an amazing time in Nepal, especially the trekking and paragliding, incredible.
Looking around at Colorado’s anti-trafficking movement, what are some strengths you see? What are areas that need more attention?
I am really excited about where Colorado is in the anti-trafficking movement. In the last five years the participation at a community level has increased dramatically, we now have 14 functioning task forces (though not all are community based) including the legislatively mandated Governor’s Council which LCHT is a part of. These groups are building a more interdisciplinary and systematic approach to the issue. Survivor voice is increasingly valued in the movement as well, which I believe is vital to its success. Previously, (and really still) the anti-trafficking movement was being pushed from the top-down, meaning prosecution and legislation. While I think this is an important part of the movement, I believe it should be survivor and community informed and research driven. In my opinion we are moving away from this top-down approach and building it more from the bottom up, which will hopefully result in trauma-informed services, and a survivor-led response. What’s really exciting for me professionally is that I think LCHT is helping to lead to way in this respect. Some of our new programming in 2018 is building the survivor coalition across the state and I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.
In your new role, you’re going to be supporting a number of LCHT’s key program areas. What are you most excited to get started on during your first month?
As a grant writer over the last year I worked on getting funding for anti-human trafficking training for healthcare and child welfare professionals. And now as a project specialist, I will be developing and disseminating the curriculums for these trainings. I am really looking forward to getting this started as I think these two groups in particular can play a pivotal role in preventing trafficking. I’m also really excited about the roll out of the Colorado Project 2.0. As you know, LCHT conducted a major research project in 2012-2013 to define the landscape of anti-trafficking efforts in Colorado and identify gaps. This 2.0 will be a five-year follow up to find what has changed and if we’ve moved the needle on anti-trafficking in the state. I am really looking forward to learning from our incredible research team and be part of this.