Students stand together against human trafficking

Hannah Brooks, Contributing writer

According to the FBI, human trafficking is defined as “the illegal exploitation of a person.” Under its human trafficking program, the FBI investigates sex trafficking, labor trafficking and domestic servitude.

Human trafficking is an increasing issue that the FBI states “can occur in any U.S. community.”

Because human trafficking is such a widespread issue in the United States, it requires awareness and efforts towards combating it at local levels.

Mercyhurst University is leading its own efforts in fighting against human trafficking, including the offerings of classes and an antihuman trafficking club and coalition.

There is one class that solely focuses on the topic of human trafficking – the Human Trafficking course, which is a Sociology course offered by Nicole John-Danzell, Ph.D.

Other classes, such as anti-money laundering courses and the Capstone Ethics course, also cover the subject of human trafficking.

Mercyhurst is also home to the Student Anti-Human Trafficking club, which is overseen by Professor Deborah Davies.

A few things that the club does is operate programs to bring awareness and coordinate a community organization known as the Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition Task Force.

One of many community projects that the club participates includes the SOAP project, which stands for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution, founded by human trafficking survivor, author and activist Theresa Flores.

Per the website for the SOAP project, their mission is to “end human trafficking by mobilizing communities, provide prevention education, and advocacy, and facilitate restorative experiences for survivors.”

Trained volunteers deliver bars of soap with a red band printed with the National Human Trafficking Hotline phone number to high-risk motels and offer training to staff on how to spot the signs of human trafficking. Club members were recently trained to participate in this program.

Other projects that the club is involved with include work with the 211 service, with which the coalition works to include human trafficking responses.

The club and coalition are also involved in the High School Awareness Pilot project, which will deliver the message of human trafficking to high school students in order to spread awareness.

Another aspect of the club is known as the analysis portion. This portion of the club works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to write reports on human trafficking in areas of interest, which have included country studies on Colombia, Brazil, India, Thailand, Nigeria, Niger and Libya.

“Last semester we wrote three country reports, one of which examined human trafficking in Brazil,” said Elizabeth Reese, senior Intelligence Studies and World Languages and Cultures dual major, as well as Student Coordinator for the Anti-Human Trafficking Club. “This report was given to 20,000 police officers in Brazil to help them identify what human trafficking may look like in the country and how they can help combat it. The reports take about a semester to research and edit and take many hours to compile.”

These reports are used to give actionable information to law enforcement agencies and NGOs. The reports include information such as identifying factors of what human trafficking looks like in different regions, ways that they can combat it, and trends that are likely to persist.

“While the work can be incredibly taxing, finding out how our reports can help people on such a large scale makes all the hours spent researching, writing, and editing more than worth it,” Reese said.

Students who are interested in joining the analysis portion of the club can either reach out via email to Professor Deborah Davies at or Elizabeth Reese

Analyst positions are typically available to upperclassmen and grad students in the Intelligence Studies program.

Students interested in joining the operations portion can reach out to Professor Davies, Elizabeth Reese or to Brennan Perrycannon at, who leads operations.

“This work is the most fulfilling work I have done in my time at Mercyhurst,” Reese said. “It has greatly contributed to my career aspirations, as I will be working in a full-time capacity to combat money laundering and human trafficking at a financial institution following graduation.”