Hiding in plain sight

Casey DiRienzo wants business students to recognize signs of human trafficking, know where it is found in supply chains and understand what to do if they encounter victims.

Human trafficking is among the fastest-growing international criminal enterprises in the U.S.

Among the fastest-growing international criminal enterprises is one that might be staring you in the face: Human trafficking.

Victims can be factory workers or nail salon stylists. They can be found in hotels and restaurants and landscaping crews and massage parlors. They can be nannies who walk children to school while living in horrible conditions. And they can be exploited for sex.

Traffickers prey upon the marginalized who are promised a good job and a better life before force, fraud or coercion lead to work for little to no pay in deplorable conditions. Seventy percent of trafficked individuals are women and children in what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates is an industry with $150 billion in profits each year, making it the world’s second-largest illicit criminal enterprise.

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Over the past year, Professor of Economics Casey DiRienzo and the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business have partnered with Saving Jane, a national nonprofit with the mission of empowering survivors of human trafficking, to help educate students on this issue. Her colleagues have been more than supportive.

“The crime is out in the open,” DiRienzo says. “Conviction rates are low. It’s a high-profit, low-risk crime. One of the primary reasons it’s grow-ing is that people are largely unaware it happens. Social media campaigns portray victims as white girls being held in chains behind locked doors, which is very, very rarely the case.”

Teaching business students involves the use of a gaming app DiRienzo created in coordination with 1Huddle, a software developer focused on game-based coaching and training programs. The game quizzes Elon students on an overview of the crime, how human trafficking relates to business and supply chains, and how trafficking might exist on a college campus. Answer questions in a timely fashion to score points. Score points to advance to the next level. Gamification keeps students engaged.

Professor of Economics Casey DiRienzo is working with faculty in the Love School of Business to educate students about human trafficking.

DiRienzo piloted the app in the fall 2022 semester and then worked with colleagues in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship to incorporate the lessons into the curriculum for a half-dozen sections of “Principles of Management” during the spring 2023 semester, reaching upward of 250 students.

Raising awareness of human trafficking isn’t new in higher education. What is unique, however, is the level of cooperation within the business faculty. Professors at other universities have expressed surprise when DiRienzo shares how her faculty colleagues readily agreed to incorporate human trafficking lessons into their syllabi.

DiRienzo’s interest in human trafficking evolved from earlier research into the effects of corruption on economic and business outcomes. She quickly discovered that corruption is “the currency of human trafficking.”

The plan now is to use the game during the 2023-24 academic year and grow the number of Elon students who learn the signs of human trafficking. That will eventually help future employers be on guard for problems with forced labor or child labor in their supply chains at a time when social justice is a priority for many members of Generation Z.

DiRienzo, a member of the Love School of Business faculty since 2002, was moved by all of the feedback she received in reviews of the app and her students’ reflections in her human trafficking curriculum. One reflection stands out: “I didn’t realize that having a mom and dad who loved me is a privilege.”

To report human trafficking to federal law enforcement call (866)-347-2434. To get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline call (888) 373-7888.

Possible indicators of human trafficking

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community
    organizations or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

 Source: Department of Homeland Security