Embry-Riddle Researchers Investigate Human Trafficking and Offer Free Online Course

Researchers Dr. Iuliia Hoban and Dr. Alex Rister worked with Olivia Campbell, digital media specialist with Embry-Riddle Worldwide's Instructional Design and Development team, to develop this video trailer for an upcoming MOOC on human trafficking (Video: Embry-Riddle/Instructional Design and Development)

Dr. Alex Rister’s goal is to help “women be advocates for each other,” which led her to community volunteer work and academic research related to the issue of human trafficking. Rister is an assistant professor and program chair for the Bachelor of Science in Communication at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide Campus.

Her community work, which comprised partnering with local nonprofits, including a safe house for women in Orlando, Florida, coalesced with her research in communication as she explored the question of, “How are we messaging in words, and in visuals, this terrible crime?”

“When you are tasked with research and community work, it’s even more intense,” Rister said. “I felt that inner fire to galvanize the people around me to really care about the issue.”

According to the International Labour Organization, an estimated 24.9 million people were in forced labor as of 2016. An estimated 33% of trafficking victims are recruited by a family member or caregiver, 28% by an intimate partner and 22% by an employer, according to Polaris, the nonprofit organization that oversees the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Now, Rister and Dr. Iuliia Hoban, assistant professor and program chair for the Master of Science in Human Security & Resilience at Embry-Riddle Worldwide, have helped create a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the topic of human trafficking to run for three weeks, July 8-28. The MOOC, titled “Combatting Human Trafficking: Understanding, Prevention and Action,” will be globally accessible and free to all.

“We want to make sure our work can be used by the community — that it’s not just ivory tower research that has little impact,” said Hoban, whose background is in global affairs, focusing on security and conflict studies.

Dr. Alexander Siedschlag, dean of the Worldwide Campus College of Arts & Sciences, developed the initial idea and content for the MOOC in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Countering Human Trafficking. He spoke enthusiastically of Embry-Riddle’s involvement with the issue.

“I am excited to see the establishing of a focus area on human trafficking studies here at the Worldwide Campus' College of Arts & Sciences. This further strengthens our human security and resilience focus, where we also offer a unique online graduate program,” Siedschlag said. “I applaud Alex and Iuliia on the successful implementation of the MOOC as a whole. Their concurrent research project on parallel action research during the Worldwide offering of the MOOC is of extreme importance to foster the discipline of human security, as well as — and according to our college's motto — innovative education and research to promote positive change around the world.”

Starting this fall, Embry-Riddle will offer a four-plus-one program in which students can earn a bachelor’s degree in Communication with a new specialization in crisis, risk and resilience communication; then, they would transition into a master’s in Human Security and Resilience, completing both programs online in five years.

Countering human trafficking is an evolving research topic at Embry-Riddle Worldwide. Hoban explained that in her research on the impact of armed conflict and other international security threats on vulnerable populations, “human trafficking consistently emerged as a pressing concern.”

Often, the survivors of human trafficking are people made vulnerable by their situations, having emerged from war, disasters, foster care, previous abuse or other difficult situations, the researchers said.

Misconceptions about the issue and about who is affected have often resulted in a kind of “moral panic,” Rister said. In some cases, for instance, migrants fleeing violence and repression have been mistakenly blamed for causing human trafficking, “which leads to harmful responses,” she said.

The researchers’ work focuses on promoting a better understanding of human trafficking and effective ways to address it. Their exploration of the topic highlights “survivor-centered approaches,” Hoban explained, where survivors of human trafficking are essentially asked, “What do you need to heal?” This approach prioritizes the well-being of survivors, avoiding the re-traumatization often associated with prosecution.

“Our study aims to ultimately provide practical insights for nonprofits, government agencies, policymakers and scholars to effectively address this crime in survivor-centered ways,” Rister said.

Maya Adkins, an undergraduate majoring in Homeland Security with minor in Global Conflict Studies, is working with the two professors, having found herself “instantly drawn to courses focusing on international anti-trafficking efforts.”

Adkins said the opportunity to do this research and the mentorship she has received have “significantly influenced the trajectory of my postgraduate career aspirations.”

The MOOC ends just before the United Nations-sponsored World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, a call to action to expand awareness and support to end human trafficking.

Register for the MOOC online.

Posted In: Security Intelligence and Safety