Fulbright Scholar Yvonne Rafferty – on a Mission to Promote the Human Rights of Children

Southeast Asia is a strikingly beautiful place, with some of the world’s best coral reefs to dive in, intricately designed temples and other cultural sites to marvel at, and countries to discover that are as diverse as the people who inhabit them.

When Professor of Psychology Yvonne Rafferty returned to this corner of the world for the third time, however, it was for the continuation of a very solemn and important mission.

As the recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Studies Research Program, she conducted research and engaged in social policy work designed to promote prevention and protection practices for the successful identification, recovery, and reintegration of victims of child trafficking.

A global crisis

Today, countless children are transported away from their homes across national borders, or trafficked within their own countries, in order to be treated as commodities to be bought, sold, and resold. Children are trafficked for a number of reasons, including commercial sexual exploitation; forced labor in factories, agriculture or construction; domestic servitude; organ removal; begging; or forced marriage.

Rafferty’s research focus and activities as a Fulbright scholar has brought us one-step closer to combatting this global atrocity.

Getting to work

Travelling to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia from October 2017 to April 2018, her research has had three primary areas of focus.

The first has been on preventive interventions that address the demand for victims to exploit as a root cause of child trafficking, one in which poverty and economic inequality are inherent risk factors.

According to Rafferty, “An effective, sustainable and human rights-based solution to the complex problem of child trafficking and exploitation will require governments to recognize the importance of creating a safe, supportive and protective environment in which all children and youth are protected against all forms of abuse, exploitation, neglect, and violence, and that their best interests are considered in all actions concerning them. Thus, development policies that aim to reduce poverty and vulnerability of children are vital to achieving major and sustainable progress in tackling child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. ”

Rafferty’s second area of focus was on the development of programs and policies that remove barriers to the identification of victims, so that they might access timely and appropriate psychosocial assistance. When children are not identified as victims, they do not receive assistance or services, and perpetrators are not held accountable.

Her third area of focus was on recovery programs and services to promote the psychosocial recovery of victims of child trafficking. She noted that the successful reintegration of children requires a comprehensive range of services that addresses their psychosocial needs, in addition to providing them with the necessary tools to ensure their future social and economic success. Finally, she emphasized the importance of timely and appropriate mental health care as part of a multidisciplinary approach to address the needs of children, and identified some promising practices and challenges.

In order to accomplish her goals, Rafferty met with representatives from government and United Nations agencies, as well as domestic and international non-governmental organizations. Drawing on her research, she shared perspectives and offered insights on what was happening in other programs and in other countries in relation to promising prevention and recovery programs, and made presentations at various host universities in the region, where she was warmly welcomed.

Student impact

Rafferty, who joined Pace faculty in 1993, has both influenced students through her research and social policy work and opened up opportunities for them to get involved.

Surena Singh, ’18, Psychology, credits Rafferty with introducing her to Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), a non-profit organization which serves girls who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.

where she secured a volunteer placement and a subsequent job offer.

She says, “I believe that this topic is very important to not only the youth around the world, but also here at home in New York City and across the country. Without Dr. Rafferty’s help and guidance, I would not have found such an incredible program to be a part of and to help make a difference in the lives of children. I am grateful for all she has taught me, her guidance throughout my time at Pace, and her passion and drive for the work she does.”

Emma Eytan ’17, Sociology and Anthropology, is working on her own proposal to do Fulbright research in Guatemala, where she would like to study the return and reintegration process of unaccompanied migrant children who were ultimately deported.

Inspired by her former faculty member, she describes Rafferty as “a daring, challenging, and motivating leader who is unafraid to dig into some of the most difficult topics like commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and modern slavery. She does so to plant a seed in each student, to encourage each one of us to feel compassion and gain the energy to stand up for injustice around the world, and in our own neighborhoods.”

Next steps

Rafferty is working on an article based on her Fulbright research that will highlight a number of misconceptions and challenges pertaining to the trafficking of children.

We look forward to it, and also to a better and safer world for all children.