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Trio of Duke Alums Guides U.S. Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking

October 3, 2016

By Jackie Ogburn

Prostitution, forced labor, debt bondage:  human trafficking is a global problem. But it isn’t just a problem overseas, there are trafficking victims throughout the U.S., even in smaller cities such as Durham, N.C. 

Three Duke alums involved in U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking spoke at the Sanford School on Sept. 29. Susan Coppedge PPS’88 is the Ambassador-at-Large at the U.S. State Department, in charge of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (OMCTP). She was joined by Amy Pope JD’01, deputy assistant to the President for Homeland Security, and Andrea Wilson MPP/MBA’12, a foreign affairs officer in the OMCTP. Sanford Professor Judith Kelley moderated the discussion.

Trafficking is “a crime of economic opportunity,” said Ambassador Coppedge. “It can be dramatically reduced if we make the costs too high.”

Highlight for Basic Page

  • Meeting an Ambassador

    Ambassador Coppedge meets with faculty and students at a reception following the Fighting Human Trafficking panel.

The office runs international programs, providing 88 grants in 65 countries to support research, NGOs and projects such as a clinic in Mexico that provides support to victims.

An important tool in the fight is the OMCTP Trafficking in Persons report published each year, which ranks countries on their efforts in meeting minimum standards established by the United Nations. 

“We call it the three ‘P’s: prosecute, protect and prevent,” said Wilson, who works on evaluating countries in Southeast Asia and drafting that section of the report.

It can be challenging “to be an expert on such a complex subject,” she said. “It can be dark and depressing. It’s both a passion and a burden.”

She explained that she chose the dual degree graduate program at Duke because the MPP would provide her with the skills to analyze and craft policy, and the MBA would provide insight into the types of business practices that are involved in trafficking.

“The Trafficking in Persons report reflects the U.S. commitment to leadership on this issue,” Wilson said.

President Obama strongly backs the efforts, said Pope. “There is a role for every agency: the State Department, Labor, Intelligence, law enforcement, even transportation.”  She described a program to train flight attendants to recognize signs of trafficking in passengers. 

The administration uses new technology, such as a program to crawl the dark web and find trafficking networks. The Victims Advisory Council includes a survivor from Cameroon who was forced into domestic work, to show that victims’ voices matter. It also focuses on supply chains and the way that the demand for cheap goods drives the demand for forced labor.

At the beginning of the Q&A session, Kelley asked audience member Libby Coles, chair of the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission, to speak about local efforts. Coles talked about trainings for law enforcement, efforts to protect victims and survivors, and the 24/7 hotline for victims and survivors: 1-888-373-7888.

Audience members’ questions focused on several of the difficult and complex issues involved in trafficking, from the problems of distinguishing sex work from forced prostitution, transnational migrants, the role of NGOs and the refugee crisis.

Ambassador Coppedge noted that people are vulnerable to trafficking when they don’t have jobs, or are displaced because of war or political upheaval. Traffickers seem to offer people a chance to work, to earn money for their families. Then victims are isolated, taken into other countries, held on fishing boats and not allowed on shore, or have their passports and IDs taken away. 

“Traffickers are selling the promise of a better life,” she said. “They are compelling salesmen.”

Group picture of speakers at Sanford