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Fighting human trafficking around the world

Julie Leventhal teaching her human trafficking study abroad course.  Photo by Michael Clements

This summer, 15 students fought human trafficking in Romania and learned how complex this industry can be thanks to UNT College of Education’s new study abroad course.

Julie Leventhal, a lecturer in educational psychology, led 15 students through Romania to help individuals and families recognize warning signs for human trafficking. The students helped the community by working with nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations, private groups and Romanian families, she said.

Before arriving in Romania students spent four days on UNT campus doing classwork to prepare. They also spend four days on campus after the trip. For some students, the subject was already very familiar. Hayli Boren, a sophomore integrative studies major, has been passionate about human trafficking since she was 15 and still was surprised by the situation and her experiences in Romania.

“I learned that the legal repercussions are low, and it shocked me,” said Boren. “I realized there is a legitimate need for people on the law side of things fighting for this cause.”

In Romania, 69 percent of the human trafficking victims never completed middle school, 46 percent were younger than 18, and 11 percent were recruited by relatives and spouses, according to 2013 statistics from the Romanian National Agency against Trafficking Persons. Stark 2013 statistics, like these from the Romanian National Agency against Trafficking. Experts estimate 20.9 million people have become prime targets for human traffickers, who profit off the sexual and labor exploitation of others in a form of modern-day slavery.

Students worked with the Open Door Foundation, an emergency shelter for trafficking victims; the Ruth School, a community school primarily for disadvantaged children from Roma families, and many nonprofits and non-governmental organizations like eLibrare, a non-governmental agency focused on creating a social movement against human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Romania.  

Working with these organizations had a profound impact on all the students.

“It was very sobering and or humbling,” said Boren. “I have been so passionate about this for years and have wanted to fight human trafficking for years. Seeing all this made me realize what a small piece of this puzzle I am.”

Boren had always planned on making her career in helping human trafficking victims through therapy but is now leaning toward the legal side of the issue. Other students went through a change in their thought processes as well.

“I had a couple of students who got a lot of clarity in terms of that they want to do career wise,” said Leventhal. “A lot of it was self-exploration,” she said, as many of her students gained a clearer perspective on their lives and goals.

Students gained a lot from the course and many, including Boren, would be thrilled to go back.

“If you invest in someone’s life,” said Boren, “even if in 15 years they don’t remember, you have still planted seeds of friendship, strong community, and advocacy.”

 —Jennifer Pache, student assistant, URCM

Posted on: Thu 30 July 2015

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