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UAlbany Student Fights Human Trafficking 

SSW doctoral student Hlin Saethorsdottir  outside Perlan (the Pearl), a museum and rotating glass dome atop Öskjuhlíð Hill in Reykjavík. The site is built on top of six water tanks that together store 24 million liters of Reykjavík's hot water.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 28, 2020) – A UAlbany doctoral student is exploring how social workers can improve the delivery of services to victims of human trafficking around the globe.

Hlin Saethorsdottir, who grew up in Iceland and spent a few years in Denmark, is now back in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, researching its response to trafficking, especially in terms of victims’ rights and opportunities to realize those rights.

“Despite the small population and relatively good living conditions, Iceland has not been exempt from experiencing global issues that larger nations face, such as human trafficking. Iceland is considered to be a transit and destination country for labor and sex trafficking of foreigners, mostly adults,” she said.

Saethorsdottir said the practical response has been inadequate in all areas.

“That is, protection of victims, prosecution of traffickers and prevention of trafficking in general. It appears there is a large gap between policy and practice, which has yet to be studied.”

UAlbany has a strong commitment to raising awareness of human trafficking, which affects millions worldwide. Every year some 21 million people are victims of forced labor and 600,000-800,000 are trafficked across international borders and exploited for sex or indentured servitude.

A panel discussion on human trafficking and how the Capital Region is impacted by this crime will be held from 1-3 p.m. on Thursday in the Campus Center Board Room. The discussion will be led by members of the UAlbany student group SSTOP (Students Stopping Trafficking of People) in partnership with the New York State Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking.

The event coincides with National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, which extends through January.

Saethorsdottir moved to Albany in 2012 to earn an MSW from the School of Social Welfare. As a master’s student, she co-created a syllabus and core curriculum on trafficking which was offered as an elective in summer 2015. Being accepted into the school’s PhD program gave her the opportunity to design her own research on trafficking.

After successfully completing doctoral coursework and qualifying exams in 2016, Saethorsdottir moved to London to put her knowledge into practice. She worked on a temporary government initiative that provided safe houses for unaccompanied minors from a notorious refugee camp in Calais, France. The children were vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

In spring 2017 she landed a permanent role on a children’s safeguarding team in a diverse borough in London. She continued to raise awareness, giving a workshop on trafficking that same year at the International Federation of Social Workers European Conference.

Last summer, she moved back to Iceland to finish her research and work in the child protection system, with a focus on providing services to foreign children and their families.

“I have always been passionate about human rights and social justice,” said Saethorsdottir. “What I value most in life is the freedom I have had to choose my own path, and I want that for others as well … Therefore we must demand human rights for all and take a stand against all forms of injustice. It is not about saving the world in one day, but about conscious living and making informed decisions, such as decisions not to buy products from companies that have slavery in their labor chain.”

Saethorsdottir believes her education at UAlbany in social welfare has given her “endless opportunities and opened a door to work all around the world.” She plans to return to Albany to defend her research and for her graduation in about a year.

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