Meet Professor Silvia Scarpa, and learn how she inspires her students to take a stand against human trafficking and contemporary slavery. Born and raised in Rome, Professor Scarpa holds a Laurea in Political Science (LUISS Guido Carli University), a Master in International Protection of Human Rights (Università degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza”) and a Dottorato di Ricerca in Political Science – Human Rights (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna). She recently published with UniversItalia the monograph An Introduction to International Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement Authorities. She is also the author of the book Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery (Oxford University Press, 2008). Prof. Scarpa teaches the popular course Human Trafficking and Contemporary Slavery at JCU.
How did you get interested in the topic of human rights? I have always been interested in this area, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on “Fundamental Rights in the European Union,” then I enrolled in a Master’s program in International Human Rights Law and, finally, in a Ph.D program focused on Human Rights, in which I started doing research on human trafficking.
How do you bring your research into the classroom? Tell us about your course Human Trafficking and Contemporary Slavery? I truly enjoy teaching this course because it really opens up students’ minds: they never imagined for example, that something like religious slavery could still exist in the world. Incredibly, in some countries like India and, to a minor extent, Nepal and Ghana, in the name of religion, young girls are dedicated to deities, and thus they can’t marry, they sometimes become prostitutes for the entire community or concubines of a local priest. Another example is chattel slavery- that is the form of contemporary slavery closest to slavery of the past, where human beings are considered as property; incredibly, this practice still exists in some areas of Mauritania and Niger.
Are there any examples of human trafficking and contemporary slavery that are closer to home for students? Unfortunately yes, especially in the form of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation: in various parts of the U.S. young girls are recruited and obliged to prostitute themselves; other victims of both trafficking for the purpose of sexual and labor exploitation are transnationally moved and end-up in European countries, the U.S., the Middle East, just to name a few.
You were selected to present the results of your research at the conference “Incorporating Human Trafficking in Academic Institutions: The European Experience” organized by the Protection Project of the Johns Hopkins University of Washington D.C. and the University of Amsterdam. Yes, I contacted past students of my course Human Trafficking and Contemporary Slavery and 47 agreed to participate in a survey aimed at assessing awareness and action in the field of contemporary slavery. The results clearly demonstrated that the majority of these students not only became more aware of the issues discussed in class, but in many cases they began talking to family members and friends about these issues to raise their awareness, thus multiplying the course’s effects. But I think that the greatest result of the course was that many students were actually inspired to change their behaviors: some did volunteer work at NGOs, some organized conferences at their home universities, one even decided to enter law enforcement.
Tell us about JCU’s first “Anti-Trafficking & Contemporary Slavery Week” that you organized last year with your students. It was great to see the whole University taking a stand against slavery! Activities included panel discussions and conferences with key experts, movie and documentary screenings, and a week-long exhibition of posters portraying different forms of exploitation. We were honored to have the participation of representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Rome, the Italian Department of Equal Opportunities, the Italian Carabinieri, the Urban Institute of Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
What advice can you offer to students who want to take a stand against human trafficking and contemporary slavery? They can organize events in their neighborhoods and schools and do volunteer work with NGOs and associations. But they can also become more aware as consumers, keeping in mind that there are ethical standards for business.
Can you describe your experience at John Cabot University? I’m truly inspired by the students and I’ve learned a lot from the entire JCU community. John Cabot is a little multicultural world in Trastevere, so teaching here has been one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had in my life. For these reasons, I wholeheartedly encourage our students to take advantage of all the opportunities this special University offers to them to grow not only as students but also as responsible citizens of the world. To prospective students, I say come and see for yourself: I’m sure you will decide to join our community!
Tell us about your latest book. The book is mostly based on the work I did in Turkey, where I was fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to a European Union Twinning Project between the Italian Arma dei Carabinieri and the Turkish Jandarma (military police). I also contributed to writing a manual on human rights standards for law enforcement officers, which hopefully will be useful to teach law enforcement officers how to respect and promote human rights in their daily activities. The book draws on this experience, as well as on other opportunities that, thanks to various institutions, I’ve had to train law enforcement officers from almost 50 countries of the world.