Xavier Faculty Member Helps Those Caught in Human Trafficking

Since Social Work faculty member Jessica Donohue-Dioh helped Harold and Dancy D'Souza escape from what they could only describe as slavery, the three have teamed up to form a non-profit to help end human trafficking.

"We will be focused on prevention of human trafficking," Donohue-Dioh says.

Eyes Open International now has a website and Facebook page, where the D'Souzas and Donohue-Dioh announced its launch in January and is raising funds to support the mission. According to its mission statement, "EOI hopes to prevent human trafficking, eliminating this human rights exploitation for future generations."

Their partnership developed out of an unlikely turn of events.

The D’Souzas arrived from India in 2003 excited about their future in America. They and their two boys dreamed of good jobs, safe housing and great schools.

 The D’Souzas were our first case. The most important thing I did for them was to identify what had happened to them as human trafficking.

But their dreams were soon dashed when they realized the family friend, a man they once called “Uncle” who had enticed them with the promise of a great life in America, had no interest in their well-being. To him, they were just slaves who would provide the labor he needed to keep his restaurant operating.

By 2007, they were desperate, surviving from meal to meal and any other assistance they could find. Through a local church, they were introduced to Donohue-Dioh, who suspected the D'Souzas were victims of human trafficking.

Donohue-Dioh, a 2004 Social Work graduate, had discovered human trafficking while studying for a master’s at the University of Houston. Laws against it were being written, and the government was funding organizations to help victims escape the two main types of trafficking—sex and labor. She jumped into the developing field as the director of the Houston YMCA’s Trafficked Persons Assistant Program.

“I was blown away with the realization of what was going on in our community,” she says. “I realized a lot of people I’d known in Cincinnati were greatly at risk."

Human trafficking for sex or labor is the second fastest-growing criminal network in the world, and the U.S. is a top destination for sex trafficking. The average age of forced prostitution in the country is 13.

Donohue-Dioh, who serves on the Advisory Board of the College of Professional Sciences in addition to teaching undergraduate students, was fundamental in the development of several anti-trafficking programs, coalitions and collaborations, as well as becoming a national speaker and educator on the subject. Her research for her PhD at the University of Kentucky is related to anti-human trafficking efforts, and she’s also the founder with a local YMCA of End Slavery Cincinnati, a non-profit organization that provides education to the community and services to victims. It now operates out of the Salvation Army.

"The D’Souzas were our first case," she says. "The most important thing I did for them was to identify what had happened to them as human trafficking.”

That designation allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to label D’Souza as a certified victim. The family's case was classic: working long hours for no pay; their savings and official papers confiscated; their only food source the restaurant where they worked; living under the constant threat of deportation. When they finally went to the police, their trafficker kicked them out.

As "official" victims, however, the family became eligible for services such as rent support, food stamps and Medicaid. Harold D'Souza eventually got permission to work. His job at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital became a career for him, and by the spring of 2014, the whole family had received permanent residency status.

"Harold and his family didn’t just easily receive the services and residency," Donohue-Dioh says. "They collaborated and worked with a multi-year investigation by federal law enforcement."

Harold D'Souza is so committed to his cause that he's now serving on the White House Advisory Council for Human Trafficking.

During their ordeal, however, the D’Souzas never gave up hope. Part of their recovery is to talk about their case, and Donohue-Dioh invites them to her classes to speak during the segment about trafficking. Their story reinforces her lesson that it’s more important to uncover the criminal network than to deport the people being exploited.

Feature Image: Dancy and Harold D'Souza and Jessica Donohue-Dioh, (far right)