TAMIU Professor, Students Complete Human Trafficking Research in AZ
Posted: 8/21/14

TAMIU Professor, Students Complete
Human Trafficking Study in AZ

Law enforcement will be better able to identify and rescue victims of domestic trafficking because of research conducted this summer by a Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) associate professor and two TAMIU students.

“The outcomes of the project extends knowledge on trafficking victims and provides useful information that will ultimately help law enforcement identify and rescue victims of human trafficking,” explained Dr. Claudia E. San Miguel, TAMIU College of Arts and Sciences department of Public Affairs and Social Research chair and associate professor of Criminal Justice.

Andrea Almendarez, Claudia E. San Miguel, Maria del Rosario Benavides

Faculty, Student Researchers
Andrea Almendarez, left, Dr. Claudia San Miguel, center, and María Del Rosario Benavides spent 10 weeks in Tucson, Ariz., researching domestic trafficking. The work will provide useful information and help law enforcement identify and rescue victims of human trafficking.

Dr. San Miguel and María Del Rosario Benavides, graduate student, sociology, and Andrea Almendarez, undergraduate sociology student, spent 10 weeks in Tucson, Ariz., thanks to a summer research fellowship from the Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence to study human trafficking in the U.S. with particular focus on minors.

“Our team focused on building profiles of domestic, minor and male victims of trafficking since there is limited information about these populations of victims and because there is an emerging need to help identify these victims in the U.S.,” said San Miguel.

The research project had several goals which complemented research at the University of Arizona and the National Center for Border Security and Immigration (BORDERS).

San Miguel and her students used scholarly literature to construct victims of domestic trafficking and also identified key risk factors or vulnerabilities that make individuals susceptible, particularly for domestic trafficking victims including minors and male victims of human trafficking.

“I collected and reviewed in-depth online research literature, read books, sourced numerous trafficking videos, interviewed members of law enforcement agency and of advocacy programs, established rapport and built new networks,” said Benavides.

She said that despite experiencing an earthquake while in Tucson, the experience was rewarding, enriching and transformational because of the vast amount of information collected to help in the development of better systems to combat human trafficking.

“My dual mission to thoroughly investigate humankind for the purpose of service and upholding the law to bring criminals to justice is coming to fruition through this research project. The work not only benefits our society, but it also assists me in continuing to develop and improve my existing research and leadership skills,” said Benavides.

Andrea Almendarez, Claudia San Miguel, Maria Del Rosario Benavides

The three worked with different agencies and organizations, including the University of Arizona.

Almendarez said the 10 weeks in Tucson was a positive learning experience, despite the heat.

“The Center of Excellence, BORDERS, consisted of the MIS (management information system) discipline, while our team from TAMIU was mainly from the social and behavioral sciences discipline, but I learned how essential it is to have both technical and social behavioral fields come together to do research on human trafficking,” said Almendarez. 

“There is a general lack of awareness of human trafficking and there is a great need for services to human trafficking victims,” Almendarez added.

The group worked with a number of different agencies and organizations in the Tucson and Phoenix area: Tucson Police Department, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, Sold No More (non-profit organization), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations personnel in Phoenix and Sells, and the Tohono O’odham Police Department.

“After speaking to people from different sectors all focused on human trafficking, I was most interested in what the advocacy groups and the assistant U.S. attorney had to say. These individuals worked directly with human trafficking victims by providing them health and/or legal services, which is something I would enjoy doing,” Almendarez said.

San Miguel added that through their various meetings and discussions with field practitioners, she and the students gained a deeper awareness of domestic human trafficking and a more profound appreciation for multi-agency cooperation to help identify/rescue victims as well as the need for more resources to combat this crime.

“Our country leads the way in terms of the rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration of victims. What is needed, however, are more resources to combat human trafficking. More training is needed on identifying common indicators for domestic human trafficking victims. The identification of trafficking victims, however, is challenging, even for law enforcement officers and thus they, together with other key groups (e.g., medical/healthcare providers, educators, business/hospitality industry personnel, and social workers), must be guided to look for certain indicators.

“Our research will help all key groups identify the push/pull factors that make individuals vulnerable to this crime and this will greatly help to rescue victims of human trafficking,” San Miguel explained.

The research, essential for law enforcement and victims of human trafficking, also created some changes in San Miguel’s students.

“Rosario gained a deeper appreciation of the societal issues that drive human trafficking and now wants to start a local project to combat this crime as well as help victims of human trafficking in our community. The experience has also solidified her desire to find a doctoral program that will help enhance her passion to help humankind. Andrea also found the research experience to be enriching. She received invaluable advice about her career path and I believe the experience will help her decide her future career goals,” San Miguel said.

They presented their results at a research meeting for the Center of Excellence in Tucson and plan to present their findings at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Conference in Orlando, Florida in 2015 and at other academic conferences.

For more information, contact San Miguel at csanmiguel@tamiu.edu or call 956.326.2529.

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