David Okech

University of Georgia professor David Okech poses for a portrait inside of his office in Sanford Hall on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (Photo/Zachary Tate, ztate@randb.com)

David Okech, a professor in the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work, established the Center on Human Trafficking Research & Outreach in 2021, after developing an interest in aiding victims following a study abroad trip he led.

Okech said in an email to The Red & Black that when taking students to Ghana in 2010, he discovered his interest in helping survivors of human trafficking while working alongside his students at a residential care facility for girls and women at-risk of trafficking.

CenHTRO’s goal is to address gaps in the measurement of human trafficking’s worldwide prevalence and implement evidence-informed interventions, Okech said.

“CenHTRO is a collaborative, cross-disciplinary, and international research hub in the global effort to combat human trafficking,” Okech said.

Utilizing evidence-based programming, CenHTRO implements information gathered on survivors’ thoughts about existing services to further their current programs in Senegal, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

André Gallant, the director of communications for CenHTRO, said in an email to The Red & Black that they do not save people. Instead, they focus on finding the regions and industries human trafficking is taking place within, how often and why it is happening and how to effectively stop it. 

Okech said some of the challenges faced when trying to accomplish this are locating and directly studying victims, especially children internationally.

“If you cannot find nor count the victims, then it is difficult to know if you are truly making an impact,” Okech said.

Gallant said these victims are hard to find due to various socioeconomic issues such as a lack of access to technology, their geographical location or potential stigmatization.

Human trafficking is a complex issue encompassing levels personally, in communities and sometimes internationally that Okech said is often tied to poverty and inequality.

“To make an impact in reducing human trafficking, we must reduce poverty and inequality across the globe,” Okech said.

The organization has created interventions to aid victims such as providing shelter, working with governments to increase prosecution and having community-based projects aimed to prevent trafficking, according to Okech.

As a social worker, Okech said he emphasizes what is in the best interest of victims and survivors through social justice. Social justice goes beyond the court, working to determine survivors’ needs, the systems contributing to the problem and how to create positive change for survivors to live a fulfilled life after surviving human trafficking, Gallant said.

“Social workers are training in providing clinical services, linking survivors or victims with necessary services or resources, and working with policy makers to craft and execute policies that counter trafficking and protect victims,” Okech said.

Okech said that by acknowledging the strengths of survivors, a social worker can work alongside the victims to provide better care and assistance to the individual.

“We have faculty from law, sociology, public health, political science, and statistics,” Okech said. “Human trafficking is a complex problem that requires a holistic intervention from all disciplines.”