While Hamilton students seem to scatter across the globe every summer, Anna Do ’18 is staying close to home and delving into the issue of sex trafficking in the United States. Funded through a Levitt Center grant, Do seeks to raise awareness and create a safe space for survivors of sex trafficking in her native Syracuse, N.Y.
The psychology major’s interest in trafficking stems from a facet of her own identity. “I’m Vietnamese,” Do explains, “and I’ve heard stories of children being sold for sex slavery in Asia, in Vietnam, and that’s what sparked my attention in the first place. Then I started reading about how it was happening in America, too.” Aware of Do’s interest in the matter, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse asked her if she wanted to spend the summer raising local awareness for sex trafficking. Eager to help, Do thought that the offer served as a prime basis for summer research.
Her project, titled “Stories of Survivors: Exploring the Lives of Sex Trafficking Victims in Central New York”, is a perfect marriage between Do’s interests. While pursuing research in a field that has always interested her, Do is also able to engage in storytelling, a passion reflected in her creative writing minor. “Writing has always been a big part of who I am, and if I want to raise awareness, the most effective way is to tell the story of someone first-hand,” says Do, who finds that turning the personal into the political serves as the best way of making change.
Do will spend most of her time this summer working in Central New York, gathering local data and information on how sex trafficking is—and is not—being handled. She notes that efforts to help survivors are, “very undeveloped because not many people are aware that this is happening.” Through sharing stories of survivors and highlighting flaws in the existing system, Do hopes to incite a drive for activism and positive change.
Do’s research will also take her to Courtney’s House, an organization based in Washington, D.C. that works to find and help young survivors of sex trafficking. Using the safe house as a model, Do hopes to bring what she learns and experiences in Washington back to Syracuse, where she hopes to set the groundwork for a similar cause. “There are safe houses in bigger cities in the country and a lot of things being done in bigger cities, but I want to root something in Syracuse and make the city a safe place for survivors,” explains Do. She believes that starting a service for sex trafficking survivors in Central New York is vital, since the city’s location between Canada and New York City makes it a convenient trafficking waypoint.
Though Do has an entire summer of research ahead of her, she is already attuned to possible problems with the project. While she believes that survivors’ stories are vital to raising awareness, Do understands that uncovering these narratives may be difficult. “A lot of my work depends on contacting other people,” she notes, “and it’s not easy to get that information from them because it is such a sensitive topic.” However, Do’s impassioned and compassionate nature will surely serve her well as she interacts with survivors.
Focusing domestically this summer, Do will spend next year looking at the sex trade through an international lens. She has plans to spend the fall in Copenhagen learning about prostitution and the sex trade in Europe and the spring in Vietnam, where she will conduct an independent research project on sex trafficking in Asia. After graduating, Do hopes to pursue a master’s degree in social work.
Do is carrying out her research under the supervision of Director of Counseling and Psychological Services David Walden.