Economics Thesis Spotlight: Colleen Judge ’20

Judge’s research analyzes the empirical relationship between the event of natural disasters and human trafficking reporting.

headshot of Colleen Judge
Colleen Judge ’20

Name: Colleen Judge ’20

Majors: Economics, Finance & Marketing

Faculty mentor: Casey DiRienzo, professor of economics

Title of research: Global Perspective: The Impact of Natural Disasters on Human Trafficking Reporting

Abstract: The International Labor Organization (2017) estimates there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. This indicates there are 5.4 victims for every 1,000 people in the world. In most cases, countries facing severe political, societal, or economic challenges experience more human trafficking due to increased vulnerability.

Similarly, natural disasters result in increased vulnerability due to drastic ramifications such as leaving millions of people displaced, homeless and financially unstable. The effects of natural disasters can also result in political, social and economic impacts. This problem begs the question about whether the event of a natural disaster impacts the number of human trafficking victims reported in a country.

In this study, panel data is used from the Counter Trafficking Data Collective’s (CTDC) Global Dataset (2018), the most up-to-date and comprehensive human trafficking victim reporting dataset. The results of this paper are preliminary and show evidence that the event of a natural disaster increases human trafficking reporting in a country. The implications of this study suggest more opportunities for research examining the relationship between natural disasters and human trafficking.

In other words: So, if vulnerable people are more likely to be human trafficked and natural disasters increase that vulnerability, this begs the question of whether a natural disaster event increases human trafficking reporting in an affected country?

Explanation of study/potential impact of findings: This economic research study is the first attempt to analyze the empirical relationship between the event of natural disasters and human trafficking reporting on a global scale. Evidence suggests the event of a natural disaster increases human trafficking reporting in an affected country.

Why did you pick this topic?

During my junior year at Elon, I was eager to gain hands-on experience in the realm of economic research before I conducted my own for my senior thesis. I had read several of Dr. Casey DiRienzo’s economic research papers and was fascinated by them, which led to me reaching out to her, scheduling a meeting and instantly connecting about economics and the human trafficking industry.

During the fall of my junior year, I served as Dr. DiRienzo’s research assistant. At the time, her preliminary research efforts were focused on examining certain factors affecting the flow of human trafficking victims worldwide. I assisted with most of the preliminary stages of this research, such as literature reviews in addition to organizing and analyzing a massive human trafficking dataset.

When I began brainstorming about my senior thesis topic, I knew I wanted to focus my paper on human trafficking, a global issue I am very passionate about. Some economic studies have examined the effects of other variables (e.g. conflict, corruption, poverty) on producing devastating effects on human trafficking. However, empirical research on natural disasters and human trafficking is lacking.

During my time working with Dr. DiRienzo, much of the literature I had read cited natural disasters as an underlying cause of human trafficking. However, this was based on observation rather than empirical evidence. Although analyzing the effects of a “black market” industry and natural disasters is difficult to quantify, Dr. DiRienzo encouraged me to take on the challenge. And I am happy that I did.

How has your mentor impacted you/your research process?

The week before I presented my preliminary research for the first time at the Eastern Economic Association Conference in Boston, I was extremely nervous. Dr. Casey DiRienzo alleviated my nerves when she told me that “no matter what happens, no matter how you present or what questions or comments you receive, be proud that you raised awareness.”

Dr. DiRienzo is so passionate, inspiring, encouraging and knowledgeable about the global issue of human trafficking. It is an honor to be working with her and I am grateful for all of the invaluable advice I have received along the way.