October Game Changer – Professor AnnJanette Alejano-Steele


October Community Game Changer

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MSU Denver Professor AnnJanette Alejano-Steele combats human trafficking through greater awareness
By Leslie Petrovski

Content Provided By Metropolitan State University of Denver

It wasn’t until 2005, after years of asking students to volunteer, that Metropolitan State University of Denver Professor of Women’s Studies AnnJanette Alejano-Steele asked herself, “What am I doing in the community?”

She answered the question by diving into Colorado’s nascent human trafficking movement and discovering what she calls her “heart work.” In ensuing years, she has become a national expert on human trafficking and helped to build some of the most innovative programs in the country to address the problem.

At its most basic level, human trafficking is a form of slavery in which people — mostly young — are exploited for sex or labor. Although human trafficking is arguably as old as humanity, it has only recently been recognized nationally and internationally as a crime. In the United States, for example, it wasn’t until 2000 that the federal government passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act; Colorado passed its first anti-trafficking bill in 2006, and other bills have followed.

Fighting the trading of human beings for profit spoke to Alejano-Steele. As the daughter of Philippine immigrants, Alejano-Steele is well aware of how vulnerable she might have been had she been raised in poverty by parents who lacked education.

Through the Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking (a statewide affiliation of agencies that helps victims), she has spent years on the front lines of the issue, working with victims and training volunteers.

Collaborating with other dedicated volunteers, Alejano-Steele began using her skills as an educator to train first responders on the differences between prostitution, human trafficking, smuggling and immigration violations. That work gave birth to the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT), an organization Alejano-Steele co-founded with Amanda Finger, which studies trafficking and trains health care providers, government officials and others to recognize and potentially combat it. The organization has trained about 17,000 people.

LCHT also has produced the Colorado Project to Comprehensively Combat Human Trafficking. It’s an ambitious research initiative co-authored by Alejano-Steele that created a national model for assessing community efforts to fight human trafficking and established an action plan for the state of Colorado to improve its own efforts to fight the crime. Eight to 10 communities wait in the wings to replicate the project in their respective states.

“Dr. Alejano-Steele is dedicated to evidence-based research in support of the anti-human trafficking movement,” explained Janet Stansberry Drake, senior assistant attorney general in the state’s Special Prosecutions Unit. Alejano-Steele’s research, Drake adds, “provides a framework and guide to support the prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership anti-human trafficking model.”

Using her professorial platform, Alejano-Steele developed a human trafficking courses, now in its 17th semester at MSU Denver, that has exposed hundreds of students not only to how the crime plays out across international borders but also in metro Denver.

Alejano-Steele also leads the MSU Denver Human Trafficking Academic Response Team, which in the last six years has assisted 51 survivors learn about their educational options, whether it’s earning a GED, pursuing vocational education or enrolling at MSU Denver, CCD or CU Denver.

The survivors work closely with academic advocates and MSU Denver students Bekah Lamar and Mary Durant. They guide them through enrollment, refer them to campus contacts who can with help with financial aid, tutoring and advising — or even talk over coffee about the stress of exams. To the best of Alejano-Steele’s knowledge, it is the only university-based program of its kind in the country.

As someone who is giving voice to a little-understood issue, Alajano-Steele has clearly found her role in the community. “I can be that amplifier that makes this issue accessible,” she says. “If I can help that new teacher understand that she’s seeing human trafficking as a form of child abuse or work with immigrants to understand these are the ways someone can exploit you … I hope I can be one of those translators.”

Note: If you have a concern or lead about human trafficking in your community, call the Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking 24-hour hotline at 866-455-5075. 

Content Provided By Metropolitan State University of Denver

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