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Center for Engagement and Community Development

EIG Awardee Briana Nelson Goff

     In a recent interview, Lauren Ruhlmann, a doctoral candidate in the Couple and Family Therapy program, spoke about the project “Identifying and Predicting Classes of Sex Trafficking Survivors in the United States.” Dr. Briana Nelson Goff, professor in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University, submitted the project. The project addresses the lack of research and treatment options for survivors of sex trafficking. Without proper treatment, there tend to be higher rates of drug relapse, unsuccessful high school or college graduation, and other negative consequences.

“There is a lot we don’t know about sex trafficking survivors and the current intervention models in place assume a “one size fits all” approach which likely means that many people fall through the cracks and do not receive services specifically tailored to their individual needs,” said Ruhlmann.

      Not every sex trafficking survivor is the same, and therefore, their physical and mental health treatment should not be the same. Ruhlmann explains that differences in sex trafficking survivors are very under explored. Ruhlmann says the lack of research is likely due to the high financial costs of a research study and because it is difficult for this type of research to be conducted with survivors.

 “It takes time to earn the trust of the survivors and earn the right to receive personal information about them,” said Ruhlmann. “It is also difficult to find financial support to fund an expansive team of people for such a large study.”

     Dr. Goff’s team is quite extensive and includes members from all different backgrounds. The team is led by PhD candidate Lauren Ruhlmann and includes 14 K-State Undergrad students from a wide variety of majors, 1 K-State Graduate student from the Couple and Family Therapy Program, Dr. Jared Durtchi and Dr. Amber Vennum from the Couple and Family Therapy program, Dr. Mary Burke from Carlow University (an expert in sex trafficking research), Dr. Shireen Rajaramfrom the University of Nebraska, and the RESTORE advisory board which is made up of, service providers, retired FBI agents and local law enforcement officials, as well as survivors of sex trafficking.  

     Dr. Goff and her team are currently working on data collection, which will take a majority of their time. Prior to data collection, Ruhlmann and the RESTORE advisory board solicited feedback from community partners across the United States who cared and were passionate about the project. So far, over 50 community organizations who serve survivors of sex trafficking have agreed to support data collection for this study.  The team will continue to add participants throughout the data collection process. 

     Goff and her team are hopeful that their project will be the largest study to date, in regards to sex trafficking research, with 500 participants. Ideally, they hope that their project will change the world by enriching the conversation and framework around sex trafficking survivors, as well as, their data affecting the current clinical protocol, improving survivor programs, and improving intervention and prevention programs.