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Davina Durgana ’12 talks at Global Alumni Weekend

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On May 22, 2017, Global Alumni Weekend ended with a talk by Davina Durgana (’12), entitled “Innovation in Statistics to Fight Human Trafficking”. Durgana, the recipient of the 2017 Alumni Award for Distinguished Service, is a human trafficking expert who uses statistics to track human trafficking vulnerability, risk, and prevalence across the globe. After creating the Human Vulnerability Diagnostic Tool (HVDT) as part of her PhD research (one of the first ever statistical tools to be used to measure and forecast vulnerability of minors to trafficking in the United States) she was recognized by Forbes magazine in its “30 under 30: Science” list and is now a statistician with the Walk Free Foundation and a professor at the SIT Graduate Institute in Washington D.C.

Using numbers to fight against human trafficking is even harder than it sounds, since the actions that fall under the term “human trafficking” can vary depending on the cultural context. For example, while an arranged marriage is very different from a forced marriage, it’s difficult to pinpoint the distinction for statistical purposes if there’s a strong cultural tradition of societal pressure to comply with arranged marriages and dowries. One must also keep track of the vulnerabilities faced by potential victims, which can be structurally pervasive (poverty, etc.); regionally-specific (even if you’re looking at a poorer area, it might benefit from a good law enforcement response, which reduces vulnerability and vice versa); and individually experienced (someone might be at risk but also possess a personal characteristic that reduces his/her vulnerability). Keep in mind also that a lot of official rates for global human trafficking, prosecution, etc., are self-reported by nations themselves, throwing their objectivity into doubt, and that the passage of a law doesn’t guarantee enforcement of new measures. Durgana is uncertain if we’ll ever achieve a perfect data environment, which doesn’t mean that she has any intention of slowing down. “The minute we stop providing numbers, policy makers start losing interest: we can’t let that happen.” Nonetheless, the economic aspects of human trafficking do help researchers like Durgana capture more accurate estimates. “Unlike sexual abuse, which is done for personal gratification, traffickers are usually working for commercial aims, which means that we have concrete motivations and illicit economic driving factors to measure and model.”

For Durgana, AUP taught her the need to bridge the gap between policy and academia. “I remember being at the Sorbonne, as part of its joint program with AUP, where they’d cite American texts but from a completely different approach: they rejected a purely American cultural stance and perspective.” Her experiences at AUP also showed her that to work in a field like human trafficking, which touches so many countries and cultures, one must be aware of one’s biases. Every single country has instances of human trafficking and while there may be lower prevalence and vulnerability rates in developed countries, those numbers remain unacceptable when one considers their larger populations and their considerable resources.

Durgana urged everyone to dedicate their talents and skills, whatever they might be, to the struggle, and mentioned how tattoo artists are starting to alert authorities when they recognize the kinds of tattoos that are often forced upon victims by traffickers. “Never stop asking questions. Where did this come from? What percentage of my lifestyle is slavery-sourced?” We must never forget that we are all implicated in this crime and we are all capable of making change.