Empowering the Frontlines: SMU Hosts Training Program with Human Trafficking Education Initiative

Sam Alavi-Irvine

Studies have shown that over 80% of people who experience human trafficking interact with healthcare institutions while they’re being trafficked. However, only about 30% of healthcare workers report feeling prepared to address human trafficking in a clinical setting. 

These statistics were top of mind for the SMU faculty and staff who initiated SMU’s Human Trafficking Education Initiative in 2022. On March 27, 2024, SMU’s Ethnic Health Institute in collaboration with the College of Nursing led its fourth training to teach current and future healthcare workers how to recognize signs of both sexual and labor trafficking among patients and provide trauma-informed care to survivors. 

Four individuals sit at a table with a blue Samuel Merritt University Center for Community Engagement, Ethnic Health Institute tablecloth.
Left to right: Sam Alavi-Irvine, Leah Kimble-Price, Vincent Ray Williams, Dr. Shelitha Campbell

Roughly 90 students, staff, faculty, and community members attended this spring’s training, held on SMU’s Oakland campus. The 4-hour long training featured a presentation from MISSSEY, a local survivor-led nonprofit organization supporting youth of color impacted by trafficking. Participants listened to a series of case studies based on real stories of patients experiencing trafficking, followed by a powerful speech by Vincent Ray Williams, a survivor of trafficking and founder of the Urban Compassion Project. Attendees also learned from an expert panel comprised of Leah Kimble-Price, the Executive Director of Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), Vincent Ray Williams, and SMU’s very own nursing faculty member Dr. Shelitha Campbell who leads A Sista’s Touch, an organization raising awareness about trafficking of girls in the Oakland area. 

This training is part of SMU’s larger trafficking initiative which is supported by a $500,000 grant from the Department of Justice. SMU’s trafficking initiative is housed under the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and Ethnic Health Institute (EHI). Members of the initiative include College of Nursing faculty Sarah Koster, Shelitha Campbell, and Jeneva Gularte-Rinaldo alongside CCE and EHI staff Sam Alavi-Irvine and Tavi Baker. 

The group is planning additional trainings sessions on this topic later in the year. If you would like to learn more about the initiative, contact Sam Alavi-Irvine at salavi@samuelmerritt.edu  

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