SEMINAR: Eliminating Human Trafficking through Public Education: Policy and the Normative Politics of One U.S. State

Please join us for a lunchtime seminar hosted by the Childhood and Gender Stream, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education.

12:30 – 13:30, 4th May 2016, 18 Woburn Square, London, WC1H 0NR

Speaker: Dr. Melinda Lemke

Human trafficking is a well-recognized international and United States policy issue. Not a new phenomenon, the labor and sexual exploitation of individuals for profit, or what some scholars refer to as modern day slavery, exists alongside other forms of socioeconomic violence historically perpetrated against children, females, and individuals of color. Despite being a serious human rights issue with important implications for public education, there is a dearth of educational research on youth trafficking and respective policy-driven efforts designed to bring educators into the fold of trafficking prevention. In 2013, Texas House Bill 1272 mandated the development of trafficking prevention curricula for protective services, health services, and K-12 educational personnel. This task was legally allocated to the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force (Task Force), which is run by the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG). HB 1272 was landmark policy not only in terms of Texas legislative history and the bill’s scope, but because of the context within which it passed and the paucity of research in this area.

This presentation covers empirical findings from a two-part qualitative study that examined the organizational, political, and normative dynamics contributing to the creation and enactment of HB 1272. Utilizing multifocal critical theory and a feminist critical policy analysis approach, data collection and analysis included 79 documents, 15 in-depth, semi-structured interviews, 1 informal interview, and direct participation in Task Force processes.

Major findings can be summarized as follows:

1) consensus about the “front line” importance of the educational sector within multisector statewide youth trafficking prevention efforts;

2) knowledge about trafficking policy and respective dynamics differed between legislative and Task Force respondents;

3) despite the appearance of bipartisan support for HB 1272 and an inclusive implementation process, slippage was identified at both policy levels; and

4) multiple normative dynamics were identified as roadblocks to truly giving “student victims a voice” and effective long-term implementation at the local level.

While focused on a specific U.S. state trafficking bill, this study has important lessons for diverse areas of educational policy, leadership, and curriculum studies research. Concerned with gaps between policy intention and outcomes in practice, as well as the role elite actors have in shaping public understanding of commercial violence and youth marginality, this research also is applicable beyond U.S. settings and policy.

Dr. Melinda Lemke is a Postdoctoral Research Associate for the Swansea University College of Law and Criminology, Wales Observatory on Human Rights of Children and Young People. At the Wales Observatory, her work involves developing trans-Atlantic partnerships and research on the rights of displaced youth. Broadly, Dr. Lemke’s research utilizes a critical feminist and interdisciplinary lens to consider how interprofessionals, local organizations, and public entities interact within complex policy environments to affect youth educational experience. She more narrowly is interested in how educational institutions and actors are attentive (or not) to the needs of underserved student populations, gaps between policy and practice, and global human rights issues. Before joining the Wales Observatory, she was a Research Associate at the Texas Center for Educational Policy, served as founding Managing Editor of the Texas Education Review, and had a lengthy career in U.S. urban public education and administrative social studies curriculum development. Dr. Lemke completed a PhD in Educational Policy and Planning with a concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. In Autumn 2016, she begins an Assistant Professorship in the University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy.

The seminar is free to attend, but spaces are available on a first come first serve basis.