Human trafficking. Prostitution. Child labor. Exploitation. These are words we have all heard. These are words we often attribute to far off, exotic places. Maybe Vietnam? India? Russia? Places that aren’t as developed and modern as the United States. Not as wealthy as Montgomery County. Those who make these assumptions are partially correct. Human trafficking occurs in Eastern Europe. It is happening in South East Asia. But, it is also happening here in Montgomery County. It is occurring in every state in the United States. If confirmation is needed, consider the recent arrest of Emily Zhang. After a four-month investigation by the Montgomery County Police’s Vice and Intelligent Unit, Ms. Zhang was arrested for prostitution and human trafficking.
Like most people, I also didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the world’s human trafficking problem. It wasn’t until I was asked to teach a course on the topic in 2014 that it really hit home. Human trafficking is occurring in every country, on every continent in the world. Corruption, demand, and fortune are just a few factors that explain how this could be. Once I finally digested this knowledge, I was overwhelmed, almost suffocating. How could slavery still exist? What could I to do about it? I struggled with this last question. I couldn’t give money to every worthy organization. I couldn’t travel to work exposing the traffickers and those complicit in the crime of trafficking. What I could do, however, was raise awareness. I could make people realize this crime is occurring in their own backyards. Help people understand the signs of trafficking, hopefully increase the reporting of this often invisible crime.
In this effort to raise awareness, I began teaching a semester-long course on human trafficking—the first at the University of Maryland, College Park. My colleague and I developed a study abroad course, taking students around the world, to see for themselves how this crime occurs. I am the Chair of the Montgomery County Human Trafficking Committee’s Education and Outreach subcommittee. And most recently, I co-authored the first textbook on human trafficking from the criminology/criminal-justice perspective. It is my hope that this book will land in the hands of many. Students and those interested around the country, will gain a better understanding of the complexities that allow for this crime to occur.
I work in higher education to expose students to ideas, opportunities, and challenges they may have never considered. Whether it be through a book, in the classroom, or places like Thailand, Cambodia, Italy, and next summer, South Africa, I hope that I am empowering all of my students to be informed and to be pioneers of change. This generation will have the ability to not only demand, but create change towards a more just world where human trafficking does not exist.