Not long out of school, Sophie Aron ’16 already has made an impact in the fight against human trafficking. In June 2019, after she earned her master’s in social work from the University of Maryland, she became the research and program coordinator at the university’s SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors.
The center provides comprehensive services, research, and political advocacy for survivors of sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and domestic servitude in the Maryland area. Aron co-chairs the medical subcommittee of the Maryland Victim Services Task Force. Here’s some of what she had to say about her work in a recent interview.
Tell me about what you do at the SAFE Center.
My main project has been working on Maryland’s medical intervention to trafficking. In January, which is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we released a new set of guidelines that I co-wrote with forensic nurse examiners, survivor advocates, and other professionals in the field, that offer guidance on how to intervene in suspected or confirmed cases of human trafficking in a medical setting.
Is one of the challenges you face that human trafficking isn’t commonly known or recognized as a problem?
I think that there’s two parts to that. The first is that you’re absolutely right, that people don’t recognize it. They call it ‘hidden in plain sight.’ So it’s something either people don’t have an awareness of or people have a pretty narrow understanding of what human trafficking is.
The second part is that medical providers will recognize that something is not right. They will get a gut feeling, but they won’t know what it is, and they won’t know what to do about it. And especially in the case of an emergency department, where there’s often not time for triage, registration, intake staff, doctors, or even social workers, to sit down with a patient and have a relationship-based conversation about what’s going on.
Why did you want to become involved in this?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be involved in this until I was involved in this. I was an intern at the SAFE Center during my second year of social work school, and I was given opportunities to testify on bills and get involved in large-scale research. And I was really drawn to the anti-trafficking movement in Maryland. It’s a group of fabulous, fabulous [people], mostly women, who are very passionate about what they do. I was working with the F.B.I., with Homeland Security, with the Prince George’s County and Montgomery County vice units, and the work that I was doing felt important, and it felt meaningful, and I felt like I was making a difference. The second part was our clients. They are the most resilient, the most wonderful, kind folks I’ve ever worked with in my life.