Fraser Fellow Takes Close Look at U.S. Child Trafficking
Anthony Burton (Tony), a 2019 Fraser Fellow and undergraduate in Political Science, recently completed his work with ECPAT-USA, a New York-based nonprofit that works on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children. We interviewed Tony recently to learn more about his fellowship experience and how he plans to incorporate his work with ECPAT-USA into his academic and career goals.
The Fraser Fellowships are named after Donald and Arvonne Fraser—two groundbreaking leaders in human rights both locally and abroad. Through the fellowships we are investing in the next generation of human rights leaders by providing undergraduate students the opportunity to work in top human rights organizations. We are excited to extend the legacy of Don and Arvonne Fraser through these fellowship opportunities.
Human Rights Program (HRP): Please tell us about your work through the Fraser Fellowship.
Anthony Burton (AB): I worked on a research report with ECPAT-USA where I looked specifically for the numbers of child sex trafficking victims throughout our nation, reviewing reports on the topic ranging from national reports all the way to specific-county level reports. Unfortunately, there is no one reliable estimate on how many children are affected nationwide. No estimate is perfect and the research done thus far is extremely limited in scope. However, I made strides by cross-referencing the reports given by state task forces with those of local nonprofits across the nation. This made it clear to me that more centralized research with collaboration amongst all levels of involved organizations is vital going forward to help save the freedom and lives of thousands of children in our nation.
(HRP): What was your experience like?
(AB): At the beginning the of fellowship, I traveled to New York City to meet the ECPAT-USA team. I spent a day in the office in Brooklyn and had a fantastic time in New York City. After returning, I did my research mostly in the Human Rights Program office on campus. Every week I attended the ECPAT-USA staff meeting through a video conference call, and I also spoke weekly with the executive director of ECPAT-USA, as well as my supervisor, Carol Smolenski. The research Carol had me doing was difficult, but so important to combat human trafficking and help children that are most vulnerable to these abuses. My research has been given to ECPAT-USA's government relations specialist, whose based in Washington D.C. and regularly meets with Congressmen and Congresswomen to better helps those affected by human trafficking.
Most recently, I assisted in a call to action to our supporters to call on Secretary Alex Acosta to resign or be removed because of his handling of the child sex trafficking case with the Jeff Epstein case before his time in the current administration. I'm glad to say that our efforts did not go unheard, justice is being served, and Secretary Acosta has resigned.
(HRP): What was the most significant finding or understanding you came away with from your fellowship?
(AB): The most important finding I came across in my research was definitely the lack of readily-available research nationwide regarding specific information around the crisis of human trafficking. The TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) of 2000 is extremely limited in its scope of requirements regarding national and state efforts to combat human trafficking and it needs to be updated to better address the issue today. Not enough is being done to protect survivors and potential victims of human trafficking. Even my limited research shows that.
(HRP): What have you gained from this fellowship?
(AB): I have gained so much thanks to the fellowship; I have more human rights connections with a leading organization in human trafficking, I have a stronger sense of understanding when it comes to the dangers of human trafficking, I have excelled in my research capabilities, I've expanded my portfolio with my reports on my research thus far, and I have most of all gained the sense that I am contributing important information to combat an important, often forgotten issue that has plagued our nation and world - child sex trafficking. This fellowship gave me an incomparable experience to reference in future employment opportunities as well as a more realistic and detailed understanding of a major current human rights crisis. I hope to expand my research and advocacy into other issues surrounding human rights going forward with my career.
Lastly, I want to thank the Fraser Fellowship and ECPAT-USA. I'm beyond grateful for everything that has helped me succeed this summer. I truly couldn't have done it without the assistance I have received!
*Responses have been edited for clarity and length.