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University of Alabama Receives DOJ Grant to Combat Human Trafficking

University of Alabama quad (Photo: University of Alabama)

According to a press release from the University of Alabama, the University’s School of Social Work has received a $1.35 million grant from the United States Department of Justice to help young Alabamians who are victims of human sex trafficking.

The Juvenile Victims of Human Trafficking in Alabama Project aims to develop the state’s ongoing relationship with treatment centers and law enforcement and develop a statewide screening and training program. The project will also design a database resource system, Safe immediately-Accessible Resources for Trafficked Youth, known as SMARTY, which will coordinate trauma-informed services to fully meet the needs of trafficked youth.

“There are a lot of people doing a lot of amazing work to target this problem in Alabama, but what this grant will do is really coordinate those efforts with a unified protocol for helping children who are victims,” said Dr. Javonda Williams, UA associate professor of social work and principal investigator of the grant. “This will unify those pockets of great services in the state, give us a common language, a common to-do list for support and help.”

The three-year project will assess needs and resources throughout the state, as UA researchers create training systems catered to each Alabama county. This will help local communities be better prepared to support victims of trafficking. Finally, the project will develop a statewide database of information and resources to help with the fight against human trafficking.

“We’re not going to produce another big book training where they go back to their part of the state and do not have the same resources and services of a larger county,” Williams said. “We’ll need to catch up with what traffickers are currently doing and fit that into both smaller and larger areas. We need to be as nimble as the perpetrators.”

According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, there have been 300 trafficking cases in Alabama since 2007. The majority of these cases are related to sex trafficking. Human trafficking is the second-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Many have no idea how prevalent human trafficking is at every corner of the state,” said Sally Longshore, who serves on the Task Force.

The University of Alabama hopes that the grant will enable its faculty and researchers to understand better how human trafficking is affecting the state, to educate the public and lawmakers on ways to combat human trafficking and support the victims of such a horrible crime.