By Ashley Oliver
This year, 43 enthusiastic CUNY students will participate in the study abroad program in Western Europe. In contrast, the projected amount of American sex-trafficking victims in Western Europe for 2015 is 914 persons.
The study abroad office at Hunter College released a mass email in October to all students attending senior CUNY colleges about applying to the program. However, 7 out of 51 countries involved in the program are located in Western Europe. According to the 2015 Global Slave Index, 70 percent of the world’s sex trafficking occurs in those countries. Romania and Ukraine are the preferred destinations for this activity, based on United Kingdom National Committee for United Nations Women statistics. Ironically, those same countries have 73 percent of sex trafficking victims from the desired destination for 43 percent of students in the study abroad program.
Western Europe is home to a series of iconic places, but the image of Western Europe as a destination spot for human trafficking seems surreal to some students.
“Eastern Europe and the Middle East are the first places that come to mind when I think about sex trafficking,” said Aaliyah St. Bernard, 20, a junior at Brooklyn College. “Sight seeing and towers are stuff that I think of when I think of Western Europe.”
York College senior, Shavon Richards, 24, said, “Human trafficking is the last thing anyone would associate with Western Europe. The worst that happens there are protests of the constitutional monarchy.”
Some faculty, however, attribute the lack of awareness of sex trafficking in Western Europe to students not attending advisory meetings prior to their departure.
York College Higher Education Officer Jean Phelps believes students who do not take time to educate themselves about any country before going will be more likely to be at risk.
“College students are adults,” said Phelps. “As adults, students need to learn about anything they do before they do it or else they should be prepared to face the consequences.”
“Before venturing to any countries, there are advisory meeting students should attend,” added Richard Mitten, the Director of the Study Abroad Program at Baruch College. “If a student wants to attend, that’s their own decision.”
While some students participating in the program are aware of potential trafficking risks abroad, it is not a major concern to them.
Dwayne Johnson, 23, a senior at City College said, “The entire purpose for going away is to higher education in a brand new setting. There are crimes everywhere. Students can get trafficked in America, too.”
“Going to Europe is a dream of mine,” said Richards of York College. “Human trafficking will be the least of my problems. I think it’s unlikely that students will be trafficked if they do what they have to do in school and stay aware.”
Still, other travelers are going to lengths of educating themselves about human trafficking in all its aspects before embarking on their trip.
“I’m not going anywhere before I learn about all the risks,” said Kyle Bethel, a junior at York College. “I’m almost done with school and too many students don’t think before they do stuff. I don’t want to die before I graduate. The reason I will go is to experience life more through learning not jumping into something to die.”
As of now, International Education Manager, Kim Holland, from CUNY’s Office of International Education said she is unaware of any sex trafficking cases in Western Europe. Although Holland was not able to release the data, an August 2015 report from the National Human Resources Center stated that there were 117 reported cases of sex trafficking in New York.
Despite the inherent risks for traveling abroad, the United States Department of State offers enrollment in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It is a free service that allows students who travel abroad to be able to get in contact with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they will be studying.
Phelps of York College said, “Students are still going to go to Europe at the end of the day. Nothing should stop them from going though. You learn from experience. You just have to be wise before making decisions that can change your life.”