On Nov. 10, three Gender and Women Studies majors along with GWS Professor Donna Hughes presented their research under the title “Analysis of Human Trafficking Cases in RI: 2009-2013”.

The event, which took place in the Galanti Lounge at the first ever Dana Shugar Colloquium, featured student presenters Faith Skodmin, Rachel Dunham and Lucy Tillman.  With almost 100 people in attendance including the director of Day One, an organization that offers support for victims of sex trafficking, Peg Langhammer, and U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha. The three students and Hughes presented an analysis of seven state and federal cases of human trafficking, including forced labor and sex trafficking, in Rhode Island from 2009 until 2013.

When they met, Skodmin, Dunham and Tillman’s only thing in common was that they were GWS majors.  After enrolling for Donna Hughes’ human trafficking undergraduate class, they were exposed to the opportunity to do original research.  The students and their advisor were brought together through a class and a common belief that there needs to be more research on human trafficking in Rhode Island.

“I had the idea to start a undergraduate research group,” Hughes said. “When I was thinking this through I was thinking about what could the students do that they could accomplishing with the whole group of them working together.”

The presentation highlighted cases that were clearly appalling to many of the presenters and audience members.  There were examples of a  21-year-old woman who trafficked a 14-year-old, a trafficker who had been trafficking victims since 1997, and many other cases that continue to melt the heart.

“There’s little things that stick with you, like the 14-year-old victim who had to participate in commercial sex acts for 45 to 50 times in a matter of 35 to 40 days [and] the developmentally delayed girl who was sold for two packs of cigarettes and $40 dollars,” Dunham said. “Things like that makes you think, ‘How could someone do that to another human?’ That was the most appalling thing.”

Besides the many horrors they found while researching these cases,  all four could not help but gush at what an enriching and eye opening experience the journey bringing them to this presentation has been.

“Honestly at first I didn’t even know what I was getting into,” Tillman said. “I had signed up for the class and she had given me a permission number and I kind of just jumped in.”

“This has been a really really enriching experience,” Dunham said. “I’ve absolutely enjoyed this.  It’s my favorite thing I’ve done at URI.”

Hughes expressed pride for the student’s and the research they had done.  “It’s been really exiting to see that their research has made an impact, that the U.S. attorney has already announced that they will be investigating sex buyers in cases of sex trafficking,” she said. “That’s a huge outcome of their research”

All three presenters did original research with primary sources coming from district courts, police stations, and a bit of guidance from the Attorney Generals office.

“We actually had a lot of help with doing this,” Skodmin said. “Everybody was really supportive when you called.  I know I called the attorney general’s office to just kind of have some guidance as to what to be looking out for. They were willing to help and give as much information as they can. I know the other researchers went to some of the courthouses and they were all just really great in lending assistance”

With this type of research and analysis wanting to be done by all in the community it is no wonder that these three’s proposals were accepted all over.  Not only was this information presented at URI, but also at Roger Williams University and at a Interdisciplinary national conference on human trafficking in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Everybody needs to be aware that forced labor and sex trafficking happens, and it happens in our community,” Hughes said. “It’s not something that happens only in Thailand or Russia.  It’s right here in Rhode Island and its right here in our communities.”