In the past few years there has been a growing awareness and activism among elected officials and the general public on the issue of human trafficking. Surprisingly, there has been very little empirical research on trafficking. Much of the information we use to create policies and programs is based on a few key examples, anecdotal data, or incomplete knowledge. The rigorous studies that do exist largely examine trafficking after people are exploited. These studies focus on prosecution strategies and the protection and support of survivors. However, in order to fully understand and prevent trafficking, we need to know what happens before people enter the system; that is, we need to explore the factors that can lead to trafficking.

In order to address this understudied side of trafficking, researchers at The University of Kansas started the Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Initiative: ASHTI. ASHTI, which means peace, began following the 2013 Kansas Conference on Slavery and Human Trafficking, hosted by the Institute for Policy & Social Research (IPSR). There were approximately 220 participants at the conference including KU faculty, staff, and students as well as members of the medical, justice, National Guard, and law enforcement services. We also had service providers, social workers, and non-governmental organizations in attendance. Following the conference, a working group of KU faculty and students organized ASHTI to develop new research, advocacy, and teaching initiatives. Members of our working group have individual projects relating to human trafficking, and we have an on going project in Kansas City to understand the prevention factors and programs that can stop trafficking and exploitation before it starts.

In 2019, ASHTI hosted its second conference, Beyond Discourse: Critical and Empirical Approaches to Human Trafficking. Beyond Discourse was an interdisciplinary conference examining critical research methods on human trafficking and related social problems. This conference offered scholars the opportunity to discuss the challenges and rewards of conducting empirical work on human trafficking, including the ways we work with affected communities, collaborate with intervention organizations, and represent our conclusions to the public. There were approximately 150 participants at Kamala Kempadoo's keynote speech.


ASHTI is housed within the Center for the Study of Injustice (CSI) at KU's Institute for Policy & Social Research and led by CSI's director, Professor Hannah Britton, with assistance from Christie Holland.


If you wish to contact ASHTI affiliates, please reach out to Hannah, britton@ku.edu, or Christie, christieh@ku.edu, and we will connect you.