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Understanding Human Trafficking in West Virginia

by Kaitlyn Thompson

On Sept. 6, WVU Parkersburg hosted Dr. Patrick Kerr. to speak about a nationwide issue: human trafficking. Although the presentation was focused on West Virginia, human trafficking is becoming a widespread problem in America.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and has been a federal crime since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. As it is becoming a prevalent problem, people must realize that it is occurring and is a serious issue.

Dr. Kerr is a licensed clinical psychologist and Chair of the Human Trafficking Activity
Monitoring Committee in the WV Human Trafficking Task Force.
In the early 2000s, he worked with survivors of human trafficking at a domestic violence
organization in Florida. This being Dr. Kerr’s first experience with these victims, his eyes were opened to modern-day slavery.
“Many years later, I began periodically encountering survivors of human trafficking through the treatment program I direct, mainly because human trafficking survivors commonly struggle with some of the same challenges as those who are referred to that program,” Dr. Kerr said. “As I began researching the resources available for human trafficking survivors in our state, I realized how few resources there were…”

Upon discovering the lack of resources available for survivors, Dr. Kerr wanted to begin raising awareness to plant a foundation so that more services could become available, and professionals would be more informed.
“I’m only one of the many people in our state who are dedicated to raising awareness and ending trafficking,” Dr. Kerr said. “Like all of my colleagues doing this work, I do it because it matters to me.”
Educating the public is important to Dr. Kerr because human trafficking is not an issue to
dismiss.
“As the only clinical psychologist on the task force, and as someone who specializes in the treatment of traumatic stress, I found that there were some unique ways I could contribute to the development of anti-trafficking initiatives,” Dr. Kerr said. “I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with this multidisciplinary group of dedicated professionals who have the shared goal of eliminating slavery.”
Human trafficking is slavery, and Dr. Kerr believes eradicating slavery is imperative. As long as people are continuously being enslaved, the progress towards achieving equality throughout the state, country and world, will be lost. Therefore, educating and raising awareness towards slavery must spread if progress is to occur.

“The first step in eradicating slavery is making people aware that it still exists, that it’s
happening in the U.S., and even in West Virginia,” Dr. Kerr said. “It’s only through awareness of a problem that we can work together to solve it.”
Through spreading the word and presenting the facts to the public, Dr. Kerr is informing the public of this heinous crime and hopes his presentation conveys the message that human trafficking, slavery, is real and surrounding us.
“To end slavery, we must be willing to look at the ways that policies at state and federal levels contribute to some people remaining vulnerable to being enslaved,” Dr. Kerr said.
Dr. Kerr’s presentation is geared towards informing the audience on the trafficking problem. It is hoped that audiences take away three key points from his presentation: first, human trafficking is slavery. Second, trafficking is more complex than what is portrayed over television, movies, etc. Finally, collaborating with human trafficking survivors in anti-trafficking initiatives is key to the success of informing the public.
“Human trafficking and initiatives to stop it are sometimes framed by simple narratives in which trafficking is attributed to a single cause,” Dr. Kerr said. “Well-intentioned people can make ill-informed missteps in anti-trafficking work. Trafficking survivors have firsthand knowledge of the phenomenon. They are essential and vital collaborators in this work.”
To understand human trafficking in W.Va., people need to become involved and educate
themselves in order to spread awareness. Spreading awareness is the first step in diminishing human trafficking.

The presentation was the first in a series of events planned by WVU Parkersburg’s Social Justice Committee. The Social Justice Committee helps to provide events that promote appreciation and acceptance for diversity and a clearer understanding of social justice issues.

“…what’s more significant than my presentation is the fact that the administration at WVU P has an interest in providing this learning experience for their students,” Dr. Kerr said. “In my opinion, that demonstrates a laudable commitment to social justice that is to be commended.”

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