Jessica Sidelinger — “It Provided me With a Unique Opportunity to Make a Difference in My State”

To be chosen as a Maine Policy Scholar was one of the greatest honors of my life. The learning experiences I gained from this year long research scholarship are unrivaled. I initially applied to the program because it provided me with a unique opportunity to make a difference in my state and it allowed me to bring an important issue to light: human trafficking.

Because I am a Justice Studies student at the University of Maine at Augusta, I am not unfamiliar with legal research, however, applied public policy research required a different approach: a narrower focus, and the development of a new set of research skills.  Cultivating these new proficiencies enabled me to study human trafficking from a different perspective than I typically took while conducting legal research. The Maine Policy Scholars program requirements and expectations combined with the significance of studying human trafficking and together motivated me to strive to produce an effective policy recommendation. Despite my commitment to the program, I could not have made it through without the unfailing support of my advisor, Professor James Cook. Due to the Maine Policy Scholars Program, as well as Professor Cook’s guidance, I have grown as a person becoming a stronger researcher, writer, and public speaker.

I choose the subject of human trafficking for my research project because policymakers need more knowledge and understanding regarding the topic to craft desperately needed and effective policy solutions. My original research focus was to determine whether Maine had enough residential placement options for human trafficking survivors. However, the lack of quantitative data available to answer that question was the catalyst which led me to one part of my final policy recommendation: the need to collect data on human trafficking in Maine. Lack of data presents multiple barriers to fully understand and thus combat human trafficking.

While researching data collection, I identified three concerns that prevented the development and implementation of a data collection method for Maine: protecting victim privacy, exposing victims to potential criminal liability, and deciding who would design, implement and oversee the data collection method. Professionals working with trafficking survivors are particularly reticent to data collection because of the possibility of victimizing trafficking survivors further. Although many of them see the importance of data collection, they are skeptical about methodology and how these methods would be implemented. Their concerns are grave and well founded given the high stakes of personal data privacy for survivors. Therefore, I recommended deidentifying personal information as a crucial aspect for policymakers to consider in regards to data collection. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

While searching for a resolution for those concerns, I found the Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC), created by a partnership between Polaris, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Liberty Shared. The CTDC is the largest known database on human trafficking and is available to the public because they figured out how to deidentify survivors’ personal information. Maine would need to employ a similar method to protect its human trafficking survivors’ identities.

Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force Logo

The second part of my policy recommendation was for policymakers to develop a statewide human trafficking task force. In trying to determine who would oversee the development and implementation of a data collection method, I discovered that many states had created statewide human trafficking task forces. These initiatives have multiple goals, all of which serve to further strengthen the resolve to fight human trafficking. Common objectives to most were: data collection methods, annual reporting requirements to state legislatures, and coordinating collaboration across the multiple professional disciplines required to combat human trafficking. Professionals engaged in anti-trafficking efforts across the world agree that fighting human trafficking requires collaborative efforts and responses. If Maine were to establish one of these statewide task forces, all of its organizations would be able to work together, learn from each and combine their collective knowledge and experience.

My research has effectively shown that data collection and a permanent statewide task force are essential to Maine ability to effectively fight human trafficking and it is my policy recommendation for policymakers in the state to develop programs to address these two critical aspects of human trafficking.