Mahdavi discusses rise in human trafficking

President Pardis Mahdavi speaks at the annual Frederick Douglass Human Rights lecture Wednesday at Morgan Auditorium. Mahdavi discussed her research on human trafficking and migration. / photo by Ayalen Ortiz
University of La Verne President Pardis Mahdavi discusses human trafficking and migration. Mahdavi was this years speaker for the annual Frederick Douglass Human Rights lecture on Wednesday at the Morgan Auditorium. / photo by Ayalen Ortiz

Megan Mojica
Staff Writer

University President Pardis Mahdavi discussed “Tripping through the Tropes of Trafficking,” as this year’s speaker for the 10th annual Frederick Douglass Human Rights Lecture Wednesday in Morgan Auditorium.

More than 100 community members attended the event designed to honor the legacy of the abolitionist with distinguished speakers who shine a light on human rights and social justice issues.

Human trafficking and human rights are among Mahdavi’s primary research interests.

The lecture began with Mahdavi sharing the stories of two individuals she worked with, who were victims of human trafficking, as a means to begin her story with the human face. 

Mahdavi outlined three main talking points: misdefinition of the issue of human trafficking, the disconnect between policy and lived experience, and legal productions of illegality.

Mahdavi made it clear that human trafficking is not just limited to sex work. 

“Trafficking is about labor, and sex work is a type of labor,” Mahdavi said. 

She emphasized that this misconception can lead to global policies having the wrong effect.

“When you don’t get what trafficking is right, then you keep creating policies that are not in the interest of survivors,” Mahdavi said. 

She highlighted how the United States Trafficking in Persons Report, a part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law that seeks to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute traffickers, was not useful. 

Mahdavi said a tier system, which separates countries into three tiers based on their government’s efforts to eradicate trafficking, is politically motivated. 

“It’s a tool that’s leverage for foreign policy as opposed to being reflective of trafficking,” Mahdavi said. 

Director of Community Engagement Julissa Espinoza, said the talk showed how trafficking impacts people.

“It helped me wrap my head around her concepts and what she was talking about moving forward because it humanized (the issue),” Espinoza said. 

Assistant Professor of Sociology Alessandro Morosin said it is important to highlight the gaps in our anti-trafficking laws.

“She (showed) we’re also a part of the problem here in terms of our … government’s policies that are counterproductive in so many ways,” Morosin said. 

David Rhodes, Yavapai County, Arizona, Sheriff, also said these misconceptions were his biggest takeaway as human rights are what are really impacted by it. 

“The importance of foreign policy, the importance of the functioning government here in the United States that we’re able to establish policies that work,” Rhodes said.  

Mahdavi said misdirected efforts can create obstacles, and recognizing trafficking as a labor issue is a step in the right direction. 

“It is a foreign policy issue that requires a human rights approach to start to actually … untangle them,” Mahdavi said. 

Mahdavi concluded the lecture underscoring that trafficking is a human rights issue. 

“Until and unless we can actually start to recognize trafficking as a labor- and migrant rights issue, then we’re not really going to be able to really fold it into the human rights framework as well as it needs to be,” Mahdavi said. 

The lecture was followed by a Q&A and book signing. The annual Fredrick Douglass Human Rights Lecture is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences.  

To learn more about Mahdavi’s work and books about sex trafficking visit 

Megan Mojica can be reached at

Megan Mojica, a junior broadcast journalism major, is a staff writer for the Campus Times.

Ayalen Ortiz, a freshman art major, is a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine. He has past experience with graphic design, fine arts and video editing.


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