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Champlain College Professor Leads App Development to Stop Human Trafficking

By Abigail Clark / Champlain News


BURLINGTON, Vt., -- Champlain College Division of Information Technology & Sciences Assistant Professor Duane Dunston has launched a fundraising campaign with the help of Champlain's Advancement Office to help develop an application and eBook for organizations that provide support services of Human Trafficking.

Dunston was first exposed to human trafficking while in Thailand for six months teaching conversational English. While there, he read a weekly series in the Bangkok Post about women lured into trafficking at young ages.

"They were either kidnapped from or sold by their families, or their families were killed. The women would be brought into Bangkok or other tourist places. It was heart-breaking to read those things, and that's why it stuck with me for so long," he said.

As a fresh college graduate, Dunston wasn't sure what he could do to fight human trafficking at that point in time.

Over the last few years, Dunston has gotten involved in Rescue Ops, an organization indexes backpage.com, a very well-known website that posts classified ads of trafficked victims, and makes the data available to law enforcement. Through this organization, Dunston attended and spoke at the annual conference hosted by the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators (IAHTI) the last two years.

At the conference, Dunston noticed several common hindrances to an investigation that were being discussed, particularly the language barrier. During the conference it hit him to have a mobile application available that could read questions into the native language to a victim. Human trafficking victims often are uncomfortable talking to law enforcement because of their fear, shame, embarrassment or they're still coping with the trauma. A common need for anyone who interacts with human trafficked victims, whether it's law enforcement or service providers, is the ability to communicate with the victim in their native language.

"What if investigators had an iPad and a victim doesn't want to talk, and an investigator could just hand them the iPad to respond to instead and walk out of the room. They wouldn't have to look them in the eye. If it's a potential female victim and a male investigator, this app would remove the tension because as a victim you're not having to talk to someone from the gender you were more than likely taken advantage by. What about children? These victims need help, support. Most of them leave the country and never see anything about what happened to them or still live in fear that the person is still out there somewhere...Trafficking victims speak various languages all over the country and all over the world. And, [this app] would cost investigators nothing," he explained.

By having questions translated to a victim, the app will expedite the services a human trafficking victim needs, along with possibly capturing the trafficker and locating more victims.

Dunston approached Champlain College in late October to help raise money for the app. With a well-known institution backing the project, the app will have more credibility once it hits the markets. For this application to be sustainable, the project needs to raise $35,000. They are raising money through an Advancement campaign called, You Have a Voice. All donations are tax-deductible. Even more, an anonymous member of the Champlain community has challenged the fundraiser-he'll donate $500 of his personal funds to match the first $500 raised to support this effort. Supporters can donate by visiting champlain.edu/Donate, filling in informational fields, selecting "Division of Information Technology & Sciences" under Divisions and filling in You Have a Voice where it says Other Designation.

Part of the crowd sourced funds would be reserved for future application updates and the licenses for software; their minimum goal is $35,000. If the app campaign were to raise more than $35,000 they would be able to pay expert translators and reserve more funds for the future of the project.

The questions have already been translated into two common languages: Spanish and Portuguese.

Dunston wants to involve his colleagues from all divisions and the students at Champlain, as well. "I would love to get Champlain students involved and have them help translate these languages," said Dunston. "It would be ideal because it falls along with how Champlain works. We have very talented students here at Champlain who have the skills to help develop the application."

Dunston hopes to have a consistent pool of student volunteers who can help translate in various languages; that way, the costs dramatically would be cut. In addition, he's hoping that some of the Champlain faculty and staff can help contribute their expertise to the topic of human rights.

Those interested in getting involved with this project-current students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents or friends of the College-contact Duane Dunston at dunston@champlain.edu.


About Champlain College. 

Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Quebec and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 60 online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 379 Colleges: 2015 Edition. Champlain was named a "Top-Up-and-Coming School" by U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges and is ranked in the top tier of 2014 Regional Colleges in the North. For more information, visit www.champlain.edu.