BGSU launches labor trafficking initiative to broaden understanding through education and research

HURON, Ohio – Bowling Green State University has launched an education and research initiative to raise awareness about forced labor in Ohio and across the country, bringing to the forefront an often overlooked side of human trafficking.

The BGSU Labor Trafficking Education and Research Initiative, developed by professors Dr. Lara Wilken and Tracy McGinley, will broaden the public’s understanding of labor trafficking while fostering additional research opportunities and cross-sector partnerships.

“This initiative will provide us with a larger platform to educate the community on labor trafficking and advance research to inform decisions regarding survivor support services and local and state policies,” said McGinley, a teaching professor and criminal justice program coordinator at BGSU Firelands.

McGinley and Wilken said the goal is to become a leading source of information on labor trafficking and to develop partnerships that further the initiative’s mission of creating public good through research, education and advocacy.

“Trafficked people walk among us every single day,” said Wilken, an assistant clinical professor and BGSU RN to BSN program coordinator. “It could be someone working at your local convenience store or a restaurant you frequent. That’s why it’s vitally important that we bring survivor-informed education and research to the forefront.”

McGinley and Wilken have been researching human trafficking and providing awareness and prevention education statewide for more than a decade. They have presented in hospitals, schools, jails, public health departments, law enforcement agencies and in the transportation and hospitality sectors. Their interdisciplinary approach to understanding human trafficking gives them a unique perspective and guides them in creating multidisciplinary partnerships.

Recognized for their expertise, McGinley and Wilken are routinely selected to serve with state agencies such as the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission in its mission to end human trafficking. Wilken chairs the public awareness subcommittee, on which McGinley also serves.

They also raise awareness with the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission by participating in customer appreciation events and developing new awareness campaigns. 

The labor trafficking initiative will be based at BGSU Firelands, chosen for its rural surroundings and proximity to industries that commonly employ hundreds of people for seasonal work, a population particularly vulnerable to being trafficked.

Unique in its approach, the BGSU Labor Trafficking Education and Research Initiative addresses a lesser-known side of human trafficking. McGinley and Wilken said sex trafficking has historically received more publicity in human trafficking awareness campaigns. The education and research initiative intends to emphasize the issue of labor trafficking and how it can intersect with sex trafficking. 

“There is a knowledge gap that exists between sex trafficking and labor trafficking,” Wilken said. “Education is paramount in understanding labor trafficking, identifying instances of it and helping victims.

“The BGSU Labor Trafficking Education and Research Initiative will allow us to elevate the outreach work we’re already doing to create an even larger impact and drive meaningful change.”

Updated: 04/17/2024 11:35AM