AllWalks ASU works to clear misconceptions on human trafficking

Through its partnership with the McCain Institute, the group aims to spread awareness and increase education

A student-run ASU organization is working with the McCain Institute to increase awareness of human trafficking and address popular misconceptions.

AllWalks ASU focuses on the education and lasting effects human trafficking can have on local communities, and both AllWalks ASU and the McCain Institute stress that there are many misconceptions when it comes to human trafficking. 

Rachel Geiser, a senior double-majoring in biochemistry and political science and the president of AllWalks ASU, said two main misconceptions are that human trafficking is a result of kidnapping and that it is relatively new. 

“Usually a trafficker will pose as a romantic partner, pretend to develop a romantic interest with someone,” Geiser said. “So it’s like a very slow, over the course of a few months process and every single survivor that we’ve had come and speak — that’s how it happened to them.”

She also said the process is extremely manipulative and involves coercion and fraud more than it involves force.

Many people also believe that trafficking in Arizona and in the U.S. is relatively new, but Geiser stressed that this is not the case.

“It’s always been an issue," Geiser said. "People are just becoming more aware of it, and as media attention grows, funding to do research on human trafficking grows, so ... it’s possible there might be more data incoming about human trafficking in the area, but that’s not necessarily representative that it’s more of an issue."

Last week, Cindy McCain reported what she believed to be a human trafficking incident, however police found it to be an unsubstantiated claim. 

According to an article published in the Washington Post, McCain saw a woman that was a different ethnicity from the child she was with at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport and reported the scene as a potential trafficking incident. 

McCain currently serves as the McCain Institute's Chair of the Board of Trustees as well as chairing its Human Trafficking Advisory Council. 

Luke Knittig, senior director of communications for the McCain Institute said in a statement that McCain apologizes for the incident's hassle.

“Mrs. McCain’s snap decision to ask a law enforcement officer for a welfare check on a woman and young child at the Phoenix airport was based on the totality of circumstances observed, not skin color,” Knittig said in the statement. “Her assessment proved incorrect, thankfully. She apologizes for both the hassle and for misspeaking about it during a live radio interview. But that shouldn’t discourage other conscientious-minded citizens from requesting a situation be checked out. To be clear, racial background is simply not an indicator of human trafficking. Signs of abuse, duress, coercion, fraud and confusion can be.”

Geiser said it’s still important to say something if an individual encounters a situation and sees signs that are known red flags for human trafficking, adding that “It’s better to call the hotline and be wrong than have not called and been right."

AllWalks ASU and the McCain Institute have worked together for several years, beginning with a relationship formed by the group's founder, Erin Shulte, an ASU alumna.

In late January 2019, the McCain Institute’s student alliance hosted an awareness fair at ASU's Tempe campus. Partners at the event included AllWalks ASU; the ASU Movement for Violence Prevention; the Sojourner Center, which is a shelter for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking; the McCain Institute; the Governor’s Office of Youth Faith and Family; and SOAP.

Lindsay Murphy, senior anti-human trafficking coordinator for the McCain Institute, said AllWalks ASU was the first student-led group the institute partnered with.

"Because both organizations are part of ASU, AllWalks provides the McCain Institute with a local opportunity to pilot new Student Alliance programming before launching to the international network,” she said in an emailed statement. “AllWalks, in turn, receives educational resources and direct support from McCain Institute staff to advise students and develop on campus anti-trafficking initiatives.” 

The two groups have collaborated on multiple successful events each year, she said, one example being partnering with Sun Devil Athletics to dedicate certain sporting events to human trafficking awareness.

Bill Kennedy, associate athletic director for Sun Devil Athletics said ASU athletics has been working with AllWalks ASU for the past three years, adding that the University's athletics department values its relationship with AllWalks and hopes it will continue to grow because the issue of human trafficking is so pertinent. 

“We believe very strongly in (AllWalks ASU’s) message, so continuing to partner with AllWalks is something we very much wanted to do,” he said.

Geiser said that the organization had a presence at the football game against Michigan State and tabled three basketball games in January. Additionally, the organization also filmed a PSA that featured Cindy McCain and that was shown at the Jan. 11 basketball game and gave away human trafficking awareness T-shirts, she said.

Kristen Abrams, senior director of combating human trafficking at the McCain Institute, said education on the topic of human trafficking is the first step to increasing awareness.

“I think awareness is where you start, but awareness is not going to be the solution,” she said.


Reach the reporter at bstoshne@asu.edu and follow @itsbrennaaaa on Twitter. 

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