Human Trafficking and Gender Violence | Dr. Mellissa Withers

View all blog posts under Videos


Kijuana Lloyd:
Good afternoon. Welcome to the Master of Public Health Online Program Faculty Spotlight Webinar. Gender-Based Violence and Human Trafficking is our topic for today, with Chantel Aftab and our Professor, Dr. Mellissa Withers, and it’s presented by the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. My name is Kijuana Carter. I’m an Enrollment Advisor for the Master of Public Health Online Program, and I’ll be your host today. First, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us, and before we begin, I’d like to review what you can expect during the presentation.Now, to cut down on background noise, please mute your phone so that you do not disturb the presenter. If you have any questions for our speaker, please type them in the Q&A box in the lower right hand corner of your screen, and hit “send.” Feel free to answer your questions as you think of them, and we’ll answer as many as time allows at the end of the presentation. A copy of this recording and the slide presentation will be available for 24 hours after the live recording. We also invite you to follow us at Twitter, @USCOnlineMPH. Now, here’s a quick look at what we’ll be covering today. First, I will share a little bit about the university, then we will hear from Chantel Aftab, who will share her experience in the Master of Public Health Online Program, and she will then introduce Dr. Mellissa Withers. Lastly, we will end the presentation with a brief Q&A session, and again, please be sure to type your questions in the Q&A box.Now, let’s begin.

The Keck School of Medicine of USC was established in 1885. Keck is the oldest medical school in Southern California. Today, it is a place of dynamic activity and patient care, scientific discovery, medical and bioscience education, and community service. Together, we are poised to lead medicine and health care into the 21st century, for the benefit of mankind. The Department of Preventative Medicine of the Keck School of Medicine of USC is known as a leader in public health and population health sciences. It is organized into six divisions, disease prevention and global health, bioinformatics, biostatistics, cancer epidemiology and genetics, environmental health, and health and behavioral research.Now, I’d like to introduce you to one of our students in the online Master of Public Health Program, Chantel Aftab, who, again, will share her experience in the Master of Public Health Program, and she will then introduce Dr. Mellissa Withers. Chantel Aftab is a 2017 candidate of the Master of Public Health Online Program here at USC. She works as a senior molecular biology research assistant for the US Navy. Chantel earned a bachelor in psychology from the University of California San Diego, and has been volunteering with the Medical Missionary non-profit since 2012 that actually partners UCSD and USC undergrads, doctors, and medical students in Tijuana, Mexico

During her time in the Master of Public Health Program, Chantel served as the 2016-2017 Online Student Rep on the MaPHSA student board, and was selected as one of Operation Smile’s research fellows. Chantel dreams of attending medical school, where she can help impact the health of others on a global scale.

Hello, Chantel. Thank you for joining us today.

Chantel Aftab:
Hi, Kijuana. Thank you, Kijuana, and a quick hello and thank you to everyone who is here joining us today. I am honored to introduce everybody to someone who has been a great inspiration and really a mentor of mine, Dr. Mellissa Withers.

Dr. Withers, she is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Preventative Medicine at the USC Institute for Global Health, through the Keck School of Medicine, as well as the Program Manager of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities’ Global Health Program. In addition to that, Dr. Withers has an important role as a professor on the on-campus Master of Public Health Program, as well as the online.

She teaches several courses that I have been lucky enough to take, and one in particular, it’s called PM-568, is a course on Ethical Issues in Global Health. It’s a very innovative and inspiring course that USC has started, because in the course, we were able to work in realtime with students from universities from around the globe. We were joined by students in the Philippines, in China, and elsewhere, and we were able to come together to tackle pressing issues, ethical issues, related to global health. It really encouraged me to approach Dr. Withers to present some of her research during this webinar, because I know that her passion shines through and really motivates her students to continue down this path, and feel excited about a career in public health.

Now, I will hand it over to Dr. Withers.

Mellissa Wither:
Thank you. Thanks so much for that very nice introduction, Chantel, and it’s a pleasure to be here, so thank you so much for the invitation to speak to you briefly today about my research, which is focused on gender-based violence. I do a lot of work on women’s empowerment issues, and today we’re talking specifically about human trafficking. Thanks to everyone who is joining us today.

Let’s start. If you think that slavery ended in 1863 in this country, unfortunately, that is not the case. These are all examples of current human trafficking cases. We see sex trafficking. We see labor trafficking. We see child soldiers, both here, in the United States, with sex and labor trafficking, and of course in many countries around the globe.

Today, in summary, I’m going to be talking basically about four parts. Human trafficking in general, some myths about human trafficking and what it is. We’re going to touch on pimp and rape culture, and finally, some brief introduction about strategies on what is being done, and what you all can do.

Part One: An Overview of Human Trafficking.

Human trafficking is actually quite complicated. The definition of it is misunderstood often, but the United Nations says that it’s the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of threat, force, coercion, fraud, deception, abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability, or of giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person, having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. I know that’s quite complicated, which makes it, I think, especially challenging to identify and to help victims of trafficking, because oftentimes they themselves are not sure if they have been a victim. The basic message here is that human trafficking is the exploitation of one person by another person, and it doesn’t have to be necessarily by force, but it could be coercion, fraud, deception, et cetera.

I gave you some examples a moment ago about forced labor, child sex tourism. We have child soldiers. There are many different forms of human trafficking. Here in the United States, which we’ll talk about in a moment, we see mostly sex trafficking, but also some labor trafficking. In this next slide here, it shows … It’s a quite busy slide, and I certainly don’t have to memorize all of the information here, but what the point of this slide is to show you that this happens all over the world. You can see that the United States is certainly a destination country for trafficking victims, but it happens … There are origin countries, transit countries, and destination countries. No region is really immune from this. It’s happening today all over the world.

How many people are we talking about? Well, the International Labor Organization just a few years ago came out with a report and estimated that worldwide, there are almost 21 million victims. Those include 1.5 million victims in countries in North America, the EU, and other developed countries. Oftentimes you hear that people maybe don’t think that it’s happening in these developed countries like ours, but it absolutely is, and let me show you some more information about that.

Human trafficking, after drug dealing, is tied with arms trafficking as the second largest criminal industry in the world today. It generates a staggering amount of money. $150 billion per year worldwide. About two-thirds of that comes from commercial sex exploitation, and about a third comes from labor exploitation, but it is a massive criminal industry. You can see if you break it down by region, that we’re looking at Asia-Pacific as a primary region in terms of forced labor and the income that is being generated, but certainly developed countries like ours are close behind.

Let’s talk about human trafficking in the United States for a moment. We know that these numbers are gross underestimates of the actual numbers of victims, because as you can imagine, it’s very much an underground industry, and it’s very, very difficult to get accurate figures. There are probably gross underestimates, but the US State Department says that worldwide, there are about 800,000 people who are trafficked around the world each year. In the United States, we’re looking at about 15,000 people being trafficked into the United States. That means that these numbers are only including foreign-born victims and not US-born victims. I think much less is known about being trafficked as a US-born person, as a US citizen. Right now, we’re only talking about foreign-born victims. About 15,000 people, mostly women and girls, and about half minors, being trafficked into our country each year. Los Angeles, where I am, is known as one of the top points of entry into this country.

I wanted to highlight one study that was done by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center in 2014, and they actually interviewed 73 pimps and traffickers that had been caught and convicted. They very much said that human trafficking is a low risk and high reward business. They looked at the amount of money that was being generated in seven cities, where their interviewees were, and, excuse me. The amount generated ranged from about $40 million in Denver, to $290 million a year in Atlanta. The pimps and traffickers reported staggering amounts of money being generated. $5,000 to more than $32,000 per week. If you think about the other two illegal industries that we were just talking about, arms trafficking and drug trafficking, when someone has a weapon, or a bag of cocaine, or something that they would like to sell, they’re going to sell that bag of cocaine or that weapon once. Whereas with human trafficking, you can sell a person over, and over, and over again. It generates a lot of money for these traffickers.

If we look at California in particular, in the past 10 years, since the National Human Trafficking Hotline was established, it has received over 160,000 calls, and has identified more than 26,000 potential cases of human trafficking in the United States. Here, in California, we have the highest number of reported victims. If you look at last year alone, we had more than 1300 cases of trafficking reported to the hotline, just in 2016. Where are the foreign-born victims coming from? Well, these are the major source countries for Los Angeles. You can see they come from various Asian countries, as well as Mexico and Guatemala, in particular from Latin American countries, but of course they do actually come from all over.

I wanted to take a look at the news, just to give you a sense of how rampant it is here in Los Angeles. I did a search in the past year, looking at news articles regarding trafficking. You can see that, here’s one. “Los Angeles human trafficking sweep leads to nearly 300 arrests.” Here’s another one, Riverside. This was a sex trafficking ring, multi-state, uncovered many juvenile victims. Here’s another one. “Sweep leads to 153 prostitution-related arrests and rescue of 10 victims.” This was recent. The President of Buena Park School District was arrested on suspicion of trafficking and pornography. Here’s another one. 474 arrests, dozens of victims. Here’s another one from San Gabriel Valley, earlier this year. This was from Chinese victims were being trafficked. Here’s another one, and even one as recent as a couple of weeks ago. 30 arrested in Compton. It is happening right here in our own backyard.

Part two. Let’s talk about myths for a moment. I hear these myths a lot when I do my research, and I don’t have a lot of time to talk today about my specific research project, but I work with a lot of community-based organizations, with general public, as well as interviews and services for survivors of human trafficking. In my own work, and doing talks like this, and doing research, I hear about these myths all the time.

Myth number one is that traffickers are unknown to the victims and that they’re typically men. In fact, in my own work, where I’ve had the opportunity to interview numerous survivors of human trafficking from all over the world, their traffickers were all women. It’s often someone that they know, or that they’re familiar with, and it’s even often, in the case of foreign victims, someone from their own countries. It’s a lot easier to then exploit them, if they speak their language, they know where they live back home, they know their families, that kind of thing.

Myth number two is that US citizens can not be trafficked. I hear this a lot. Why would someone who is a US citizen fall prey to that? How could they be exploited if they speak English and they have documents that allow them to work? In fact, there are many hundreds of thousands of American youth who are at risk of sex trafficking in particular. We see at risk youth like young teens, runaways, those on the street that are, in particular, vulnerable to being exploited in this way. We see about 200,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of minors in the US, in this country, and of people born here. There are studies that show that about a third of teens who run away will be lured into commercial sex work within 48 hours of leaving their homes. We know that this is very much related to low self confidence and self esteem. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Myth number three is that victims are kidnapped, they’re drugged, they’re chained up, they can’t escape. We see movies like Taken, with Liam Neeson, from Albania. We see in the movies and in the media, victims are portrayed in this way, as being drugged and unable to escape. In fact, that is not true. I included some examples of women that I have worked with. You might want to take a look at this video, this six-minute video later on, but this is Angela. This is a real survivor. She was trafficked from the Philippines, and she talks in her interview about being able to leave, having a cell phone, but some of the incredible manipulation and tactics that her traffickers used to scare her enough into staying.

Here are a couple of other women that are also survivors of human trafficking. Angela and the woman on the top left, her name is Ima Matul, both of them are fantastic speakers and advocates for human trafficking survivors. They work with a wonderful organization based here in Los Angeles called the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, or CAST for short. CAST has a survivors’ caucus, where they go around speaking, and they lobby Congress. Actually, Ima, in this photo, was speaking last year at the Democratic National Convention. The woman on the bottom is also a survivor. She was born in Mexico and came here to the United States legally when she was 15. Her name is Maria. She was held for many years against her will, locked in a home as a maid, and was only able to escape when her traffickers died.

Myth number four is that trafficking victims are female, and they’re being trafficked for sex. In fact, most of them in the United States are female, but we do have about 10% that are male, and 83% of trafficking victims coming to the US are trafficked for sex, but we see increasing labor trafficking and of men. You can see the other ethnic origins and age ranges there. One thing I wanted to point out is that more than half of the trafficking victims in the United States are US citizens. 55%. As you can see, they come from all walks of life, ages, for all different purposes.

Myth number five is that females who engage in sex work willingly are not trafficking victims. This is also a complicated topic, but for our purposes, I wanted to point out that according to the definition of trafficking, and under our US law, any minor under age 18 that is engaged in commercial sex work is considered to be a trafficking victim, even if he or she is consenting, because they are basically being exploited into that. In addition, not all, but some of the women who are not minors who are engaged in commercial sex work are also considered victims, and so you have to go back to that complicated definition of trafficking victims in order to kind of figure that out.

Another myth is, if a woman willingly came to the US for a job and was tricked, then that was basically just her fault, her being too gullible, and it’s not considered a crime. It’s just a shame that she believed the story. Excuse me. In fact, that is a myth, because if you go back to the definition, again, part of the definition of trafficking means basically being defrauded or coerced. If a woman in, say, Mexico was promised a job here in the United States as a nanny, and she comes here and then finds that in fact she’s not going to be working as a nanny, she’s not going to be paid, but instead she’s basically going to be exploited or put into servitude, then even if she came willingly and willingly gave up her passport and came here, she can still be considered a trafficking victim. It has to do with the purpose of exploitation of someone, and even if it’s not direct physical force, if there’s fraud, if there’s threats of force, those can still be considered cases of human trafficking.

Myth number seven is, trafficking victims will always escape whenever they get the chance. In fact, we know that’s not true. You can read more about that on my blog, and also by watching Angela’s video, but many victims have the opportunity to escape and don’t. It’s a little bit different for foreign-born versus US-born. For foreign-born victims, they often have no passports. They know no one here. They don’t know where to go. They don’t speak English. They don’t have documents for work, and the trafficker often scares them into thinking that they’re going to be arrested and put in jail, and so those are mostly the reasons why we see foreign-borns often staying. In the case of those born in the United States, they don’t experience those same challenges or barriers, such as no English, or undocumented status. They know how to call 911. They know what their rights are. They know that it’s against the law, yet many times they choose to stay in these abusive situations. People ask why, and it’s a valid question.

I was doing an interview, I think it was last year, with a filmmaker here in Los Angeles who was telling me a story that was related to him, about how traffickers find their victims. Basically, you can read the exact quote, but basically the story was that the trafficker went to the mall and found a young girl by herself walking around, and he would go up to her and say, “Hey, you have really pretty eyes.” And if she looks back and says, “Well, thanks,” with some level of confidence, then he would not further engage. But if it looked like she had low confidence, low self esteem, if she looks down at her feet, and looks away shyly, and says, “Oh, no. No, I don’t.” Then the trafficker said, “That’s when I know I’ve got her.” They are masterful at being able to tell within just a few seconds who may fall prey to these strategies.

They use several strategies, then, to manipulate their victims into engaging in commercial sex work. They start off by grooming them. They groom these young girls. They pretend that they love and care about them, that they’re in a relationship, a boyfriend-girlfriend kind of thing. They create dependency so that the girls begin to rely on the traffickers for their basic needs. They may take away their IDs, isolate them. They also talk to them about the fear of the unknown and how it’s going to be worse for them alone on the streets, that kind of thing, or going back to their unhappy homes. They also remind their victims that they are constantly being watched, either by themselves, the traffickers, or by a coworker. They may be kept isolated, and they often, the traffickers will drop in unannounced or even have cameras and things where they’re being kept.

Other strategies. They certainly are experts at psychological abuse and dehumanization. They often tell their victims they’re worthless, nobody cares about them, they’re forgotten already at home, that they’re insignificant, so they expose them to terrible emotional distress and psychological abuse, and they just basically beat down their self esteem. They also make threats to call the police. Sometimes they will just say, “Oh, well, the police are going to come and arrest you.” Often, they will even make up a lie saying, “If you decide to leave, I’m going to report you as stealing …” Some item of theirs, right? “I’m going to say that you stole my watch.” Or that they’ve committed some sort of crime, and then they remind the victim, “Hey, who’s gonna believe you over me?”

I was called, actually, recently by an attorney in Texas to be an expert witness. This woman from China had been threatened for years by her trafficker, who said, “If you decide to leave, I’m going to call the authorities. I’m going to call the police, and I’m going to say that you were beating me. That there was some sort of domestic violence. And I’m going to show marks, and you’re going to be arrested.” She actually had a child, and that, “You’ll never see your child again.” They also threaten to go to their families. Especially the foreign-born victims, they know where their families are. They threaten to kill their families, or they threaten to make the families pay back whatever amount of money that they paid to get their jobs. They often threaten to spread rumors that, here, the victim has turned to prostitute, or that they’re criminals, or that they’re in jail, ruining the reputation of not only the victim, but their entire families back home. That kind of goes back to the, “What’s worse? Would you rather just stay here?” Kind of thing. “Stay in the current situation.” The threat of the unknown.

In some cultures, we see that endurance is actually seen as a virtue, and that victims, women are often told not to complain, just to endure, keep quiet, keep the peace. This also is known by the pimps, and they use it as a strategy of manipulation. They may threaten them with worse consequences, like being homeless. They certainly know how to avoid visible marks, so that maybe there is not a lot of physical abuse, and of course, sometimes there is, but they certainly know how to torment their victims psychologically. Another common strategy we see is that they give them, sometimes, hope, about, “Well, as soon as you pay off your debt, of all the money I had to pay to get you here, then you will be free.” But of course, that time comes around, and even if they’ve paid off their debts, the traffickers make something else up. They inflate the costs. “Well, I’ve had to pay for your housing. I’ve had to pay for your food, so now you still owe me, and it’s going to be another 10 years.”

Part three is about pimp and rape culture, and how that contributes to trafficking. These are examples of songs that have come out. Snoop Dogg, for example, talking about glorifying pimp culture, that it’s a good thing to be a pimp. We see also MTV shows like Pimp My Ride, or movies and books about, The Pimp’s Bible, for example, also glorifying pimp culture.

Rape culture is basically when we think of sexual violence as being normalized. There’s a continuum of sexual violence that starts maybe with comments and jokes, and goes all the way through to actual rape. We often excuse males from judgment or from negative consequences by saying things like, “Oh well. Boys will be boys.” I think we saw that recently here in the United States with some comments from Trump. The, “Oh, well. Boys will be boys. That’s just locker room talk.” But this positions male sexual prowess as something valuable and excuses men who perpetrate these types of acts. Of course, when we accept the less offensive behaviors like jokes, it certainly opens the door to more aggressive behaviors, like exploitation of women.

Here’s an example. I don’t know if any of you saw the movie Hustle and Flow. It was about a pimp who wants to become a rap star, and the song, It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp, actually won the Academy Award that year. If you look at the lyrics, it talks about, “You know, it’s hard out here for a pimp.” He talks, again, about glorifying that culture. He has to keep his girls working, and, “You should feel sorry for me, because I have such a hard life.”

Rape myths, which is something I’ve done some research on, are basically stereotypical beliefs. It could be about the victim. It could be about the perpetrator, or even the act. I’m sure you can all think of many examples of rape myths, but some are that rape only happens to promiscuous women, or she asked for it because of her clothing, or because she was drunk, or because she went back to his house. We also see sometimes that people believe that women really claim to have been raped when it was actually consensual sex, because they were jilted, or they wanted to receive some kind of money. We also hear that men need sex, and that they just have these strong, uncontrollable urges, and it’s just not their fault.

We know that in societies with high levels of rape myths, that we see sexual violence occur more frequently, and that the men who perpetrate them, and of course, rape happens both to men and women, but in this case, we’re talking about male perpetrators and female victims. The male perpetrators suffer few consequences in the case of rape, and they often then escape any kind of judgment or negative consequences, and in fact, in these societies, some coercion or violence may be seen as justified. Here’s an example of a paper, of a study that I worked on with a colleague at UCLA, about rape myths, attitudes in Kenya. If you’re interested, you can take a look at that paper.

We know it’s a problem, so what can be done? Well, there’s some good news here. Here is an example of the study that I worked on, again, with my colleague, Dr. Tevrow, at UCLA. We looked at the many barriers that victims have to reaching services, so lack of confidentiality, fears of deportation, stigma and shame, low literacy. We thought, “Wouldn’t the health care setting be a great opportunity to screen and provide help, and to link victims to services?” But often, and in our own research we found that our own participants, the victims, had been to the doctor many, many times and had never been identified as a victim.

We did a survey, and we looked at the training of health care providers and their confidence in being able to handle patients and support patients who are experiencing human trafficking. We found that they had very low levels of confidence, and almost no training on how to spot and help trafficking victims. You can see this broken down by the different types of providers, that very few of them, a minority, felt confident or very confident in their abilities to handle trafficking and domestic violence. That is one important area, and that paper also was recently published, if you’re interested, but that is one area. We need more training of our health care providers, who often see these victims more than anyone else in our society.

Another promising step is that there are several politicians, actually, who are calling for mandatory training of hotel and motel employees, as well as truck drivers, who often may see victims. This is a great example, Kevin Kimmel, who noticed suspicious activity and called the hotline and reported it. Several states have similar bills that mandate training for truck drivers. This was an example of an NGO, non-governmental organization, called Airline Ambassadors. This was an Alaska Airlines flight attendant who was able to identify a victim just earlier this year, going to, I believe it was the Superbowl.

What can we do? Well, we definitely need more awareness so that people understand the definition of trafficking, and more training, as I mentioned. We need more services and resources available to those at-risk youth who may fall prey to traffickers’ strategies, and we need more outreach to locate them on the streets. We also need to think about the way that we normalize sexual aggression, and rape myth acceptance, and we need to stop blaming the victim or justify acts of sexual violence or coercion.

What else can we do? What can you do? Well, educate yourself, and I’m so happy to hear that so many people were interested in this topic. Support legislation to decriminalize prostitution, and many of sex workers, as you know, are not engaged in it by choice. Buy fair trade products, so that you’re not supporting child labor. Promote girls’ self-esteem. Get involved in advocacy work with our politicians. Sign up for emails or news from anti-trafficking organizations. Certainly, if you suspect a case of trafficking, you can call, there’s a national hotline number there. Report it.

Some of the signs of adults would be things like being isolated from family and friends, frequent movement or erratic schedule, always having somebody carefully watching over him or her, being paid nothing or very little, owing large debts that he or she is unable to ever pay back. Having the ID taken away. Tattoos is a very common strategy. Certainly with youth, again, it’s low self-esteem, having luxury items like phones, or nice clothes, or purses without any explanation, refillable gift cards, older boyfriends, tattoos, new groups of friends. You can take a look at this great film, Look Beneath the Surface, from the Health and Human Services Department. That gives you a little bit more information about spotting trafficking victims and reporting, certainly. There’s the number, again, to our national hotline.

Here are a couple more resources, if you’re interested and want to take a look at these later on. I also mentioned that I have a blog. I think I have about five or six posts so far. It’s called Modern Day Slavery. It’s on the Psychology Today website, so I would encourage you to take a look at that if you’re more interested in the topic. That’s all I have for you today, but thank you so much, and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

Kijuana Lloyd:
Thank you, Dr. Withers, for sharing with us today. Now, we will try to answer some of your questions. Again, to submit a question, please type it into the Q&A box and hit “send.” We do have a question right now, Dr. Withers. The question is, “Has the definition of human trafficking changed over the course of its study? And if so, how did it develop?”

Mellissa Wither:
Okay. Thanks for that question. As of 2000, the United Nations decided to come up with a formal definition of trafficking. I think it hasn’t changed, but there certainly is increased awareness about what strategies are being used, and that it doesn’t have to always include physical force.

Kijuana Lloyd:
Okay. Thank you. Our next question is, “What brought you to this topic, and what inspired your research?”

Mellissa Wither:
Great. Since undergraduate, I went to Cal Berkeley, and I studied global development, and I had the opportunity to travel to some developing countries. Since that time, I was very interested in ideas of women’s empowerment, or in many cases, women’s disempowerment in developing countries. I knew that I wanted to do something related to that, so when I took my first public health course, when I was at Cal Berkeley, then I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to focus on gender-based violence and being able to help empower women in developing countries through promoting more gender equitable programs and ideas.

A few years ago, I was able to transition into also doing work here in Los Angeles, through a study that was funded by Blue Shield Foundation of California. Domestic violence, human trafficking, those are all examples of gender-based violence, and that’s really what I have been passionate about since college.

Kijuana Lloyd:
Okay. Thank you. Our next question is, “What does a career path look like for someone who is interested in the topic of human trafficking, or research, or even outreach?”

Mellissa Wither:
Okay. There are many opportunities to get involved in a career in helping human trafficking victims. It may be that someone is interested in working on the legal side, or the law enforcement side. Certainly, there are a lot of community-based organizations, like some of the ones that I’ve mentioned that are trying to help victims, so provide more services and outreach, and find more true estimates of the numbers of trafficking victims. One of my studies right now was funded by the State of California, and the grant was a partnership with three community-based organizations here in Los Angeles. One mostly focuses on domestic violence victims and runs shelters. The other two are mostly focused on youth, homeless youth, runaway and at-risk youth, and providing them with shelter, and education, and job training, and that kind of thing.

The State of California gave a million dollar grant basically to learn about the specific and unique needs of trafficking victims, to find out why they’re falling through the cracks, and how organizations like these community-based organizations can better serve these victims, provide better outreach, and better programs. There are many opportunities to get involved in that type of work, and especially for people who are interested in public health and social work, that kind of thing. Of course, there’s a whole research track that’s more academic, like the one I have. Lots of wonderful, rewarding career paths.

Kijuana Lloyd:
Okay. Thank you, Dr. Withers. Our next question is, “How do victims of sex trafficking get reintegrated into society, especially victims who may have been removed from their country of origin?”

Mellissa Wither:
Okay. Thanks for that question. I guess there are two populations that we can look at. I know of several organizations that, for example, in Southwest Asia, that rescue young, minor victims of sex trafficking and provide homes for them to live in, and because it’s often very hard just to reintegrate them back into their families and communities, and they often fall again, fall into the victims of trafficking, or back into sex work, because they have no skills and no education, and they have a lot of psychological trauma. They actually live in these homes where they’re provided counseling, psychological counseling, and education, and self-esteem classes, and job training. They spend up to two years being able to kind of transition and heal. That’s one example.

In the case of here in the United States, the US has a program- actually, two programs- where trafficking victims can actually get immigration help and they can then legally stay and work in this country. One of the programs is for victims who are willing to help with law enforcement to prosecute their traffickers, and so they’re able to get their legal documents to be able to stay, and they help them with services. I know a wonderful woman here in Los Angeles who works for ICE. Her name is Rojita Kahn, and she’s a victim’s services specialist, and that’s what she does all day, is helps get these victims of trafficking who have been identified and who are kind of going through the process of helping to prosecute their traffickers. She helps them kind of reintegrate back into our society, and heal, and get all the services that they need, whether it’s legal, or psychological, or homes, et cetera.

Kijuana Lloyd:
All right. Our next question is, “As a student, how do I implement skills I’ve learned in the classroom into this field?”

Mellissa Wither:
Well, students, we need a lot of help in this area. We need a lot more people to be educated and to be interested in this field. Frankly, we’re doing a great job yet of identifying these victims and helping them transition, so students learn all kinds of skills, from cultural competency, to how the health systems work. They learn about research skills, and many other skills that they could then bring to the table in working with either, say, the county, for example, or working with a community-based organization, to try to help better prepare ourselves, our health care providers, our law enforcement, people who may come in contact with victims on a daily basis, help us to better identify and serve them.

Kijuana Lloyd:
Okay. Our next question is, “Do you agree with the demand-focused campaign to fight sex trafficking? Programs that penalize men that purchase sex, for example? Do you believe that this is an appropriate approach to this public health crisis?”

Mellissa Wither:
I absolutely agree with a demand-focused intervention. I think we really need to … I mean, it’s a tremendous and complicated problem that we need to try to address at different levels. I think in the past, with the focus on more of the supply, we unfortunately have driven trafficking further underground, because Okay. Our next question is, “Do you agree with the demand-focused campaign to fight sex trafficking? Programs that penalize men that purchase sex, for example? Do you believe that this is an appropriate approach to this public health crisis?”the victims are the ones that suffer the consequences. They’re the ones that are criminalized for engaging, for example, in sex work, even though it’s really not their choice if they’re trafficking victims. We, I think, have not focused enough on curbing the demand for this. I think part of this, I’m hoping, if I’m being optimistic, is that maybe there’s not an awareness of the level of exploitation, and abuse, and manipulation that’s happening in the sex industry. I hope that if people, in particular men who engage in commercial sex work, if they really realized the problem, and that these sex workers are often being forced under horrendous consequences and conditions to do this type of work, that maybe with more awareness, we would have a reduced demand.

Kijuana Lloyd:
Okay. Thank you. Our next question is, “How does this research tie into the Institute of Global Health?”

Mellissa Wither:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I’m housed here at the Institute for Global Health, and we have lots of different skills, so we have professors who are attorneys, for example. We have a world-renowned human rights attorney that is on faculty. Another expert in international relations. We have people like myself, who have expertise in global health, gender-based violence, and other topics. I think we work together. One of the fantastic things about the field of global health is that it’s very interdisciplinary, so we need people who have backgrounds in everything from engineering, to anthropology, social work, law, business. We need a variety of people to kind of tackle these challenges, our global challenges, from different levels, and from different perspectives.

Kijuana Lloyd:
Wonderful. For the sake of time, Dr. Withers, I’m gonna ask one last question. That question is, “What is your next project or research, and is it in this field or something unrelated?”

Mellissa Wither
I have a couple of next projects that I’m working on. I’m continuing to do research on human trafficking here in Los Angeles. I also have a project on postpartum depression. I have a study on how to engage men more in family planning in Kenya, that I’m working on with collaborators, and I have a study that just ended in Chile. We’re analyzing data on how to provide immigrants from other Latin American countries with better access to health care. I have a variety of research topics and projects that I’m interested in, but they sort of all tie together in focusing basically on global health, and woman, and empowerment.

Kijuana Lloyd:
All right. Well, thank you so much, and again, I want to thank Chantel Aftab and Dr. Mellissa Withers for joining us. I also want to thank everyone who participated today. If you have any questions about the program, or you think that it’s time for you to apply to the program, please reach out to either myself or one of the other advisors. Our contact information is on your screen now.

I do want to remind you that a copy of this recording and slide presentation will be available for 24 hours following the live session. This concludes today’s webinar. Thank you again, everyone, and have a wonderful day.

Mellissa Wither:
Thank you so much.