Human trafficking conference opens Oct. 11

Researchers, government officials, non-governmental organizations and law enforcers from around the world will soon converge on UNL to take up a mission they began years ago: to end human slavery.

UNL will host the fourth annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking Oct. 11-13. Known as the pre-eminent academic conference on the subject, the gathering will feature events open to the public along with dozens of interactive presentations for registered conference participants. The goal is to build public awareness about human trafficking while providing a forum for the presentation and discussion of research and professional work and giving those closest to the issue an opportunity to network and learn from each other.

Human trafficking, organizers say, is a global problem and one that plays out right here in Nebraska. It continues to be described as the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Some estimates count as many as 27 million people currently enslaved worldwide.

"In almost every country of the world, men, women and children are tricked, kidnapped or sold into slavery. Many of these unfortunates do not survive; others are permanently scarred in body and spirit," said Dwayne Ball, a conference organizer and associate professor of marketing at UNL. "At this conference, we will hear from researchers and practitioners who will advance new approaches and evaluate previous legislative, law-enforcement and public action approaches to preventing victimization and rehabilitating victims."

Among their successes since launching the conference in 2009, organizers point to a grant received from Microsoft that will be used to identify the role of online advertising in child sex trafficking in the United States. Along with increasing awareness, the conference also has helped motivate others to get involved in fighting this injustice. Among them are members of the Nebraska Students Against Modern Slavery.

This year’s keynote speaker is Kristiina Kangaspunta, deputy director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute. She will join Nebraska assistant attorney general John Freudenberg — a member of the Nebraska State Task Force on Human Trafficking — and Nebraska state Sen. Amanda McGill in a panel discussion Oct. 11 at the University of Nebraska College of Law. A bill introduced by McGill was signed into law earlier this year which, among other provisions, created a task force that will study human trafficking. The public also is invited to this free event, which begins at noon in the Hamann Auditorium. The panel will focus on the pervasiveness of human trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced labor around the world and in Nebraska.

Featured guest James Kofi Annan, who was sold into slavery at age 6 and forced to work in Ghana's fishing villages 17 hours a day, will share his story during a free public lecture at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11 in the Nebraska Union, 14th and R streets. The lecture is co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Judaic Studies.

Annan escaped after seven years, taught himself how to read and write, and went on to earn a college degree. He has dedicated his life's work to ending modern slavery, including through Challenging Heights, an organization he established to empower Ghanaian children through education, and promote their right to be free from forced labor.

The conference is sponsored by UNL's Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs; the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Education and Human Sciences, Journalism and Mass Communications, and Law; the Harris Center for Judaic Studies; Nebraska Family Council; Center for Children, Families and the Law; Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development; and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

For more information about the conference, go to