Fighting slavery

Fighting slavery

UF health science student travels to Thailand to discuss human trafficking

By Emily Miller

Soya Davis

Forty slaves currently work for Soya Davis. The UF health science senior said she is working to set them free.

“We incite this demand, and sadly they are the supply,” said Davis, who learned this number from, a website that helps people discover their connection to modern-day slavery by their use of commercial products linked to slave labor. “We should care about those millions of people who make our products.”

This is the message Davis, 21, brought with her this summer to Bangkok, Thailand, where she spent one month surveying 158 college students about their thoughts on human trafficking, a modern-day form of slavery. Thailand is on the U.S. Department of State’s Tier 2 Watch List, meaning the number of humans smuggled into or out of the country is significant or increasing but that the country is making efforts to comply with regulations.

The Port Charlotte native administered a 23-question survey to students at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok as part of her senior thesis project.

“My goal was to see how many college students were knowledgeable about human trafficking and to incite some sort of interest in the students,” Davis said. “I really wanted people to focus on the victims and realize they are real people and they are out there.”

Davis said she was blown away by the knowledge students in Bangkok have of the issue.

“It gave me so much encouragement for the rest of my project,” she said. “I think students know a lot more than they are willing to admit.”

Davis funded her trip with help from the University Scholars Program, a program in which students work one-on-one with UF faculty on selected research projects. Davis brought the project idea to Linda Cottler, Ph.D., the chair of the UF department of epidemiology in the colleges of Medicine and Public Health and Health Professions, who helped her make the trip a reality.

“I think she did a great job,” Cottler said. “She did all of the work herself, and it took a lot of effort.”

But, Davis is not finished yet.

“I’m not going to let her go,” Cottler said. “She needs to write this for publication.”

Davis first became aware of the issue of human trafficking in January at a Christian conference called Passion. She decided then that she wanted to combine her interest in occupational therapy with her newfound passion for helping victims of human trafficking.

“These people really need a health care provider who understands where they are coming from, which is why I wanted to do this project to begin with,” said Davis, who is on a pre-occupational therapy track at UF . “A child who is a victim of sexual exploitation might not know how to interact with people. She might think love means inappropriate touches. An occupational therapist works to help patients achieve activities of daily living, and I think if OT practices are used with these victims it could truly help these people in not being defined by their past but to look toward a brighter future.”

Davis said college students can start getting involved by becoming more knowledgeable about human trafficking issues and by being more conscientious consumers. She said a significant percent of chocolate manufactured to be distributed around the world comes from the Ivory Coast, which is well-known for issues concerning child labor within the cocoa and coffee industries. She added there is also a great need for more research in the areas related to victim rehabilitation.

“Sometimes the solution takes a lot more than just sending money,” she said.