Sen. Chris Murphy kicks off human trafficking conference

Sen. Murphy speaks during human trafficking conference at Quinnipiac
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy spoke to a crowded room during the Stolen Lives conference kick-off dinner reception at Quinnipiac's Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences May 29, 2014. Murphy asked attendees to propose responses to human trafficking and to challenge elected representatives and others in authority to enact real change.

May 30, 2014 - Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry trapping up to 30 million people worldwide—60,000 in the U.S. alone.

Despite the increased efforts by the federal government to combat human trafficking, it's the local professionals in the community who are in the best position to help free those trapped in forced servitude, said Katherine Chon, the senior advisor on trafficking in persons at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Chon was the keynote speaker at the two-day conference, "Stolen Lives: An interprofessional response to human trafficking," held at Quinnipiac's Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences in North Haven.

"We are committed to doing more," said Chon, who outlined the federal programs that are addressing trafficking, such as training for health care providers and grants for community organizations. "We hope our actions in the last year and a half have shown that, but we really need your partnership because the actual implantation and ideas are from the community level."

About 175 professionals from multiple professions attended the conference to learn more about the problem, how to uncover it and help the victims, particularly once they are freed from traffickers.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who attended the first day of the conference, shared some of the work Congress is doing to stop human trafficking, but acknowledged that more needs to be done to help victims. He recalled a case study about a 16-year-old girl who ran away from a foster home where she was abused and landed in the hands of a man who forced her into prostitution. When she was caught by law enforcement, she was placed back in the same foster home, and once again ran away and ended up back in prostitution.

"There is a moment in time when our community should have wrapped our arms around that girl, should have recognized the life that she was forced to lead and figured out how to build services to try to give her a new path and new skills," Murphy said. "Instead, we failed her. We have to be able to figure out all of the different services necessary to give new possibilities and hope."

Chon said stopping and preventing trafficking must be a collaborative effort by federal and local agencies, including law enforcement, health and social service professionals. Businesses also can do their part to make sure the products and services they purchase do not come from slave laborers. Schools, particularly school nurses, can help identify young people who might be victims of trafficking, who are usually in vulnerable populations, such as young people who have been neglected by their families, have low self-esteem or have truancy issues.

Conference panel topics included trauma associated with human trafficking, ethical and legal issues of human trafficking, and trafficking effects on children and adolescents. Maurice Middleberg, executive director of the anti-trafficking organization, Free the Slaves, spoke on the second day of the conference. At the conference, his organization presented the Freedom Award to trafficking survivor and victim advocate Timea Nagy.

Recent incidents of police uncovering trafficking rings in neighboring cities brought home how pervasive this problem is, said Jean Lange, dean of the School of Nursing, which co-sponsored the conference with the Albert Schweitzer Institute and St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The STARfish Project, an anti-trafficking group co-founded by Quinnipiac professor emeritus Barbara Moynihan, organized the conference events.

Lange said she hoped the conference gave area professionals the tools to combat this problem. "If you know what to look for and have that opportunity, every citizen could help at least one person."