Research at Nebraska 2021-2022 Report
Katie Edwards

Improving Support for Sex Trafficking Survivors

Sex trafficking is receiving greater attention globally. As society begins to acknowledge and tackle this silent crime, survivors have a critical, though largely absent voice.

Nebraska’s Katie Edwards aims to improve community response by learning from trafficked survivors themselves. She’s collaborating with Call to Freedom, a South Dakota-based nonprofit organization that supports survivors, and the University of South Dakota.

This research will improve services, determine barriers to accessing services, help identify victims and address societal problems that contribute to trafficking.

“So much of what’s been published has been perspectives of law enforcement or crisis workers. That’s really important, but we need to hear from survivors themselves,” said Edwards, associate professor of educational psychology in the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools and director of Nebraska’s Interpersonal Violence Research Laboratory.

“At the end of the day, we all want to support survivors in their journey toward healing and recovery.”

Katie Edwards

Edwards’ team worked with Call to Freedom and its advisory boards of professionals and survivors to refine every aspect of the project. The team is conducting surveys and interviewing clients as well as prison inmates who were trafficked. Nearly half of Call to Freedom’s clients are Native American women.

Executive director Becky Rasmussen said working with Nebraska will improve services and support efforts to distribute best practices nationally, aiding similar organizations and enhancing public policies and awareness.

“Vulnerabilities come through gaps in legislation, housing and services,” Rasmussen said. The project “takes a holistic approach to addressing vulnerabilities so survivors aren’t pulled back into trafficking situations.”

Sex trafficking is highly underreported and its prevalence unknown. By better understanding the circumstances of trafficking, this research will help law enforcement, schools and others recognize victims and intervene.

Because so little research has focused on survivors’ experiences, Edwards anticipates national interest in the results. The team has presented information to the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We make a really good team,” Edwards said of the collaboration. “At the end of the day, we all want to support survivors in their journey toward healing and recovery.”

The U.S. Department of Justice-National Institute of Justice funds this research.

+ Additional content for Improving Support for Sex Trafficking Survivors

Nebraska news release: New research inquiry aims to improve support for sex trafficking survivors


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