By Maria Gil
When Karis Williams was only 15 years old she watched a human trafficking documentary that changed her life and gave her a purpose. She decided she would dedicate herself to rescuing lives.
After serving in the military, earning her master’s in global affairs (MAGA) from the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs in 2017 and landing a job as a research analyst at a major tech company, Focal Point Data Risk, Williams began a project called “Sparks of Grace” to fulfill her mission.
As part of her project, Williams works as an anti-human trafficking consultant. She conducts country-specific research on human trafficking policies and on ways to spread awareness throughout the U.S.
“[I] challenged myself to go where I never imagined,” she said.
Equipped with the research skills honed during her time at FIU, Williams has worked with several non-profit organizations and movements such as the Africa-based Mavuno Project and the international Freedom Challenge.
She is currently conducting research on anti-trafficking policies in the U.S. and Latin America for A21, an Australian-based non-profit organization that works to end human trafficking.
She is also updating A21’s human trafficking awareness curriculum for administrators of K-12 schools – a curriculum that schools in the U.S. and Mexico can purchase and often implement as part of sex education classes.
This curriculum teaches kids what human trafficking is, how not to become a target and how to identify it.
“[The curriculum] had success in Mexico, and schools in Australia use it,” she said. “The goal [in America] is to implement the curriculum state by state rather than school by school.”
This upcoming school year, A21 will test its new curriculum on 150 different schools in Florida, Texas, California and Tennessee. Once the curriculum receives feedback from the schools, Williams will analyze the data and identify which teaching methods are most effective when it comes to efficiently educating children on identifying human trafficking.
Williams also regularly speaks at conferences and events. Last year she was invited to Honduras by the Mavuno Project to give a presentation for the school board, universities and government officials in the country.
While in Honduras, Williams appeared in a national news talk show where she answered questions live as various people called in during the segment.
“Honduras does not have a human trafficking hotline,” she said. “And people [in Honduras] are not aware what [human trafficking] looks like.”
“It’s not just kidnapping. It’s more of a con. Traffickers will give you an unreliable dream,” she explained.
Williams said that a classic example is promising to take a person to a new country to access an opportunity of a lifetime, such as becoming a famous model in the United States.
Another example, according to Human Rights First: Women and girls in Ohio and Pennsylvania were lured with promises of love and wealth. Instead, they were trapped and forced to become prostitutes in a multi-state ring based at truck stops.
In Honduras, Williams met several citizens who had recently learned that loved ones that had disappeared were in reality victims of human trafficking.
Williams is also active in Miami. She recently organized a panel at her church, where she and the panelists explained that human trafficking is both a local and an international problem.
She discussed what people can do to help raise awareness.
Learning more is the first step. Williams encourages people to be aware of current policies for human trafficking. She also urges everyone to get involved with organizations that combat the problem and either volunteer or make a donation.
Part of her project also involves showcasing the work of anti-human trafficking organizations and businesses. Through social media, Williams and several other women share information about anti-human trafficking in a way that is simple and informative.
“My main purpose is to let people know that there is always something that they can do,” she said.
This story was originally published on FIU News.