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What is ASU doing to prevent sex trafficking on campus?

The University works to stop sex trafficking through various organizations


"ASU has several initiatives to prevent sex trafficking." Illustration published on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018.

A small bedazzled can of pepper spray hangs off of many young women’s keychains. They walk in pairs or with their keys between their knuckles. They take the long way home to avoid walking through any dark areas. 

The threat of sex trafficking has become very prevalent in recent times, so much so that ASU’s police department issued a warning to all students in April. Aside from publishing warning bulletins, many organizations on campus exist with the purpose of preventing and educating people on sex trafficking.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, said STIR is among ASU’s efforts to make the University a safer place.

The STIR office is a combination of a research center and a training organization, according to Roe-Sepowitz. The office focuses on informing students how to treat a survivor of sex trafficking and how to spot the signs of a sex trafficking situation. They also work to provide services for survivors such as housing and support, she said.

STIR also developed a program called Project Starfish that provides students and teachers alike with free materials to help educate their students and themselves on sex trafficking, Roe-Sepowitz said. Project Starfish has a section on its website in which allows educators to download entire lesson plans to share with students, within areas of emphasis like journalism, theater and history.

Roe-Sepowitz said there are three major components to stop sex trafficking: the victims, the traffickers and the buyers.

She said people must be able to identify the victims and potential victims of sex trafficking and educate those who are at risk while serving and rehabilitating survivors. 

“Next is, who are the traffickers and what could we have done earlier in their lives to intervene?” Roe-Sepowitz said.

According to Roe-Sepowitz, some research done on the subject by STIR shows that sex traffickers have had previous run-ins with law enforcement.

She said spotting the signs of a sex trafficker early on is an important step to take, and STIR has focused a lot on research of buyers as well. 

“And really what we found is they’re everyone. They're educated, they're not educated, they're married, they're not, they're people of color, they're not people of color, this is their first time, this is their 100th time. It's everyone,” she said. “We need to teach college students that buying sex from another person is violence against women."

STIR works closely with another ASU effort against sex trafficking known as the All Walks Project.

Rachel Geiser, a senior studying biochemistry and political science and president of the All Walks Project at ASU, said the organization provides prevention education for students, hosts activities and even does events with ASU athletics.

She said the All Walks Project even did a presentation at ASU’s football game against Michigan State on Sept. 8 during which cheerleaders held “End Trafficking” signs to raise awareness and increase student education on sex trafficking.

Geiser said most of the project’s efforts focus on informing its audience about the signs of a sex trafficker and that this education of students can be crucial to preventing more cases from happening.

She said she has seen this theory proven in her own circle. The vice president of the All Walks Project had an encounter at the Memorial Union last year with a known sex trafficker, Geiser said. She said the vice president was approached by a man, but told him she was waiting for her boyfriend. At that point, the man left with a different young woman and the ASU Police Department was called. The man was then arrested for trespassing and later linked to a sex trafficking ring.

The All Walks Project partnered with the McCain Institute to create the Student Alliance Against Trafficking.

The Student Alliance Against Trafficking started at ASU and grew into an international program, partnering with campuses in the U.K and Uganda, said Lindsay Murphy, the senior anti-human trafficking coordinator and a graduate student studying business administration.

Murphy said the Student Alliance Against Trafficking “provides tee-shirts, promotional materials, educational materials and funding to student groups so that they can host awareness events.”

She said the alliance connects students with peer leaders, and that through the website, ASU students have access to leaders at those campuses in places like the U.K. and Uganda. 

Simply talking about the issue of human trafficking and educating those close to us makes an impact on sex trafficking, Murphy said. She said The Student Alliance Against Trafficking is "elevating the movement and connecting peers who are leaders on this issue."

“It can be a very negative subject," Murphy said. "But we believe that we can bring a sense of hope that if we're all in this together, we can end trafficking."

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