UT Institute honored for research done in human trafficking

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UT’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault won a 2018 ProtectHER award last Friday for its research on human trafficking. 

The ProtectHER award was given by New Friends New Life, a Texas organization that provides resources to formerly exploited women and children. The award recognizes efforts being done to address issues of sex trafficking.

Margaret Bassett, the institute’s deputy director, said the research institute is being honored for years of multidisciplinary research that provides data for lawmakers, organizations and the community.

“The field comes to us with questions that they need answered, and then we do the research to help answer those questions,” Bassett said. “Our research … helps advance the field and, ultimately, it provides information that helps the practitioners who are working directly with survivors.”

Kim Robinson, CEO of New Friends New Life, said the institute’s research is the first of its kind and contributes to community-level understanding on complex human trafficking issues.

“One of the great things about the (institute) is that they produced the first empirically grounded data about the extent of human trafficking in Texas,” Robinson said. “It gave us hard evidence or hard data about the situation inside of Texas, which has been really critical for us in helping our community understand the extent of this crime.”

Robinson said organizations such as New Friends New Life rely on state-level research, such as research being done by the institute, to demonstrate that human trafficking is a local issue.

“Empirical research is so critical because often, research that is published is on a national scale and it’s (been) hard for us to get people concrete examples of trafficking on a local level,” Robinson said.

Dixie Hairston, a research project manager of the institute, said it can be challenging to find individuals who have experienced exploitation, as the stigmatization of victims forces them to live in hard-to-access “hidden populations.” Frustrations also arise from seeing individuals fall victim to exploitation despite implemented safety nets in society, Hairston said.

“It’s really frustrating, looking at it from systemic and systematic perspective, when looking at how many times these individuals have fallen through the cracks and have kind of been forgotten by society, by social workers, by service providers,” Hairston said. “When you’re looking at this highly vulnerable and often stigmatized population, it can be challenging to understand how to do research on the population in a way that is not further exploiting them or making their lives more challenging than they already are.”