BENEFITING: Polaris Project
On August 17, 2013, I received notice that I had been approved for and accepted to the UNT faculty-led Cannes, France study abroad trip during the Spring 2014 semester. This is an 18 week-long program designed for students at all levels (including graduate students like myself) to be fully emerged in the French language and culture - to develop daily and professional proficiency, and to increase transnational communications and strengthen foreign affairs.
I am a graduate student at the University of North Texas working toward completing my Master of Arts in Women's Studies with my focus on the mental health needs of human trafficking victims. I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with minors in Women's Studies and Social Sciences from the University of North Texas in 2012, and have been working hard to tie these two passions together ever since.
What this event means to me:
Studying abroad is both a formal and an informal learning experience that truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Most students attending these programs do so during their undergraduate career, when funding is widely available and life is not as structured and demanding. Unfortunately, as a first generation student, life has always been quite demanding - from working all during high school and college, to participating in as many extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities as I possibly could - and I was never able to afford (or make time) to study abroad.
As a graduate student researching and working in the mental health field, I have quickly grown to understand the necessity of mental health services designed specifically for victims of human trafficking. My goals of working with trafficking victims will eventually involve interactions with individuals (victims and internationally located service providers) who may not speak English. Having the ability to adequately communicate with victims and/or service providers who exclusively or primarily speak French (and/or various French-based languages) improves my ability to make stronger connections with these victims, but also increases the number of locations around the world where language will no longer be a barrier for advocacy and providing assistance.
The Big Picture:
Each year, the U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons releases a country-by-country analysis - the Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report - identifying each country's background information (if they are a source, transit, and/or destination country; demographics affected; forms of trafficking; methods of recruitment; and the country's level of compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking), recommendations for the country, and the efforts of prosecuting perpetrators, protecting victims, and preventing human trafficking made over the last year. This information is used to give each country a Tier placement in either Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3.
Placement requirements are:
-- Tier 1: Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's (TVPA) minimum standards.
-- Tier 2: Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
-- Tier 2 Watch List: Same as Tier 2 requirements, but also fit one of three additional criteria
-- Tier 3: Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
French is the official language, or one of the official languages, of 30 countries and 12 French territories. Additionally, there are 34 unofficial French-countries where the French language plays an important role in society (in relation to administrative, commercial and international communications, or because of a large Francophone population). Of those 76 countries and territories around the world (locations found in each of the seven nations), in regards to the most recent (2013) TIP report, 7 rank Tier 3, 16 rank Tier 2 Watch List, 20 rank Tier 2, and 8 are not yet included in the report due to lack of documentation or refusal to share this information. In other words 67% of the Francophone world ranks lower than Tier 1 or is not included due to refusal to share or lack of available information. This population is significantly affected by human trafficking and problems that arise from the illegal practice are not confined by borders.