University of Georgia

University of Georgia

UGA awarded additional $4 million for human trafficking program

photo of David Okech
David Okech (Photo by Peter Frey)

The State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) has awarded $4 million to the University of Georgia-based African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery (APRIES) to supplement the latter’s international human trafficking research and programming work. The funding is part of the TIP Office’s Program to End Modern Slavery and builds upon the $15.75 million that the TIP Office awarded APRIES in 2019.

The international APRIES consortium, led by School of Social Work Associate Professor David Okech, addresses one of the greatest barriers to ending modern slavery—the lack of reliable data. Victims are reluctant to come forward, and authorities don’t always recognize when people are being trafficked.

Through APRIES, teams of researchers are for the first time comparing many different methods of data collection to find proven ways to identify exploited and at-risk populations. With the data they collect they also are building evidence-based practices to prevent human trafficking, protect survivors, and advocate for policies that lead to laws to prosecute perpetrators in sub-Saharan Africa. The methods and interventions they develop will inform efforts to reduce human trafficking in the U.S.

The supplemental funds will help APRIES’ expand its efforts in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Senegal. The funds also will support research on the prevalence of human trafficking in Brazil, Costa Rica, Morocco, Pakistan, Tanzania and Tunisia.

Among other things, the new funding enables APRIES to add two full-time staff members to support the program’s expansion. A program manager will administer the Guinea portfolio. A postdoctoral qualitative researcher will lead the analysis of interviews and focus group discussions from a wide variety of stakeholders, including households affected by human trafficking.

“These qualitative data will aid in understanding the context and vulnerability factors fueling human trafficking, as well as the service and policy gaps that address trafficking in the countries of operation,” said Okech.

APRIES has already directed scholars’ attention to test the robustness of different methods of prevalence data estimation for hard-to-reach populations. In May it co-hosted the virtual Prevalence Reduction Innovation Forum with the Department of State’s TIP Office, which drew more than 1,000 research and policy experts from around the world.

APRIES’ other goals include establishing a Center on Human Trafficking Research & Innovation at UGA, as well as small research centers in its countries of operation to enhance the sustainability of anti-trafficking efforts. A proposal for the UGA center is currently being developed. The other centers will provide information, resources and coordination for locally-based anti-trafficking personnel, who in turn will advise APRIES members and its implementing partners.

“Ending modern slavery requires a collective effort and global partnership,” said Okech.

Co-investigators for the supplemental funding are Jody Clay-Warner, Meigs Professor of Sociology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; Tamora Callands, assistant professor in the College of Public Health, and Lydia Aletraris, associate research scientist in the School of Social Work and APRIES project coordinator.