Human trafficking - a womanwith long dark hair and with a hand on her forehead with sad expression.
Published on: Feb 8, 2021

Two Penn State researchers are contributing to the fight against human trafficking, acting as leaders and speakers at the First Annual Regional Human Trafficking Summit For Advocates Against Human Trafficking, taking place on Feb. 9-10, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Glenn Sterner, assistant professor of criminal justice and founding member of the Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse, and Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and a cofunded faculty member in Penn State’s  Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), are leading the effort.

“Through an SSRI seed grant, Sheridan brought me onto a team to explore the issue of human trafficking,” Sterner said. “This spurred an offshoot project that has led to a pilot project to address human trafficking on the dark web, while laying a foundation for numerous external partnership and funding opportunities.”

“SSRI has helped support the fight against human trafficking by bringing interdisciplinary researchers to work together at Penn State through cluster hires intended to focus on complex problems,” Miyamoto said. “Early seed funding from SSRI led to trafficking-focused research projects and external funding for the examination of trafficking in a child welfare population by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.”

Though the event is virtual, Sterner and Miyamoto know the summit will be beneficial in sharing best practices, learning from survivor experts, and exploring multidisciplinary approaches to regional partnerships. The event will cover various subjects but most importantly promote bilateral and regional cooperation for the prevention, assistance, and protection of trafficked persons.

“Regional conferences are key to sharing research evidence and best practices in the prevention, identification, and treatment of victims of human trafficking,” Miyamoto said. “With a virtual format, I hope for broad engagement of many disciplines across regions.”

“This event is the culmination of a year-long effort to connect with organizations across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region III,” Sterner said. “Through this event, we will be able to develop a robust network of individuals and organizations willing to share best practices and current insights into how to address issues of human trafficking in our communities.”

Sterner, who served on the planning committee leading up to the event, will speak in a breakout session focused on how law enforcement investigates to interdict digital trafficking activity and location of victims.

“In my presentation, I plan to discuss an interdisciplinary project that we are developing at Penn State regarding human trafficking exploitation on the dark web,” he said. “Through this discussion, we will be able to develop a more robust set of partners to explore future opportunities for expansion of this work.”

Miyamoto, on the other hand, will be sharing her research in a session discussing the ways to build capacity in child welfare systems to collect child trafficking data.

“I am looking forward to presenting research I conducted with my colleagues Sarah Font and Casey Pinto,” she said. “We reviewed thousands of Children and Youth Services reports of child sexual abuse or sexual exploitation across 10 Pennsylvania counties to identify the incidence and characteristics of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). Our final report resulted in six key recommendations to strengthen Pennsylvania’s response to child maltreatment and to the identification and intervention for victims of CSEC.”

Sterner looks forward to furthering this research after the summit concludes.

“As a result of this summit, we will develop a not-for-profit entity that will encompass a regional effort in a formal collaborative,” he said. “Our next year will be spent developing this organization, working on issues of human trafficking with member entities, and planning for our next summit in 2022.”

SSRI will be a co-sponsor of the event. Other departments that contributed to this work include the Criminal Justice Research Center, the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, and the colleges of Liberal Arts, Nursing, Health and Human Development, Education, and Information Sciences and Technology.