Professor Specializes in Human Trafficking Studies

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Professor Monti Datta started researching and analyzing human trafficking data in Sept. 2011. He has been interested in the issue ever since he lived in Japan and South Korea more than a decade ago.

Professor Monti Datta started researching and analyzing human trafficking data in Sept. 2011. He has been interested in the issue ever since he lived in Japan and South Korea more than a decade ago.

Monti Datta, a political science professor at the University of Richmond, has become an expert on analyzing human trafficking data and research studies. He also teaches a course at the university called “Human Rights and Modern-Day Slavery.

Datta has been teaching at the University of Richmond since August 2009. He didn’t start studying human trafficking until two years later in Sept. 2011. His interest in human trafficking first sparked several years prior, while he lived in Asia.

“The big interest really came from living overseas in Asia,” Datta said. “I really got interested in the phenomenon when I was living in South Korea and Japan as an English teacher.”

In an article Datta wrote for the University of Richmond Alumni Magazine, Datta describes his experience in 1999 visiting a notorious red-light district in Fukuoka, Japan called Nakasu. Datta and his friend went on a dare, but he said he ended up “shocked and saddened” at what he saw. He said he saw the corruption between police and organized crime, who were pimping out the prostitutes. Years later he realized the women he saw were victims of the sex trade.

Sex and labor trafficking is known to be rampant in Asia. The Global Slavery Index estimates that out of the 29.6 million people in slavery today, 72.7 percent are in Asia. Six Asian countries — India, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh — are among the top 10 countries with the highest numbers of enslaved people.

Datta worked as an assistant language teacher with the English Program in Korea (EPIK) in Yeosu, South Korea from 1995 to 1998. Datta also participated in the Japan English Teaching Program (JET) from 1999 to 2000 as an English teacher to middle and elementary school students. He returned to the United States to earn his Master’s degree from Georgetown University, and later his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis.

Datta began studying human trafficking by researching, finding secondary sources and looking at various surveys. He started to meet people with a similar interest.

“I started attending different conferences and I met some folks pretty invested in the anti-slavery movement,” he said.

Datta said he considers a few focus questions throughout his studies.

“There are a few questions I study: How can we estimate the number of slaves in the world today? What are the risk factors? What can we do to change policy for the better?” he said.

Datta is not affiliated with any advocacy group, but he said he hopes to eventually become trained to work with human trafficking victims. In his studies, Datta seeks only to analyze and interpret data for the public.

“My only goal is to share knowledge in an open and transparent way,” he said.

Datta said there is currently no solid data on human trafficking in Virginia. He said some organizations at the national or international level hold back from publishing data because they fear they’ll lose their funding. Datta said there isn’t enough collaboration between the different forces in Virginia.

“It’s (acquiring human trafficking data in Virginia) a challenge because there’s not much cooperation at the moment,” Datta said.

However, he said there are an estimated 60,000 slaves in the United States today.

Datta said there is also a widespread lack of services for human trafficking victims in the country.

“There’s a lack of services for victims everywhere in the United States,” he said. “Not just Virginia.”

Datta said Virginia’s long history of slavery still haunts the state today. As Richmond was the capital of the former Confederacy, Datta makes a connection between the Civil War and Virginia’s modern-day slavery.

“You can see that legacy of slavery still here,” he said.

To help fight human trafficking, Datta suggests looking at the poor neighborhoods of your community.

“In Virginia, probably the best thing that people can do is to think really carefully about what’s happening in their local community and then focus on neighborhoods that are poor,” he said. “In general and around the world, there is a correlation between poverty and human trafficking.”

Datta said the only way human trafficking can be stopped is if everyone works together.

“Just like no one person can end AIDS, no one person can end slavery,” Datta said.


Monti Datta is also working on several projects about human trafficking and modern-day slavery with Free the Slaves and Chab Dai. Datta has other research studies that examine the nature of the U.S.-European Transatlantic Gap and look at the sources and impact of world public opinion.

Read more of his story:
Global Slavery Index Takes Step Towards Freeing Modern Slaves by Locating Them
My Father’s Unspoken Story–Slavery In India 

If you would like to discuss any of the topics above, he may be contacted here:

For more information on human trafficking, please check out our resource page.

Shelby Mertens

About Shelby Mertens

Shelby Mertens is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Mass Communications - Journalism. She was the arts and culture editor of The Commonwealth Times, VCU's independent student press. Shelby was a blogging and social media intern for Gandzee, an online retail startup in Richmond. She covered the General Assembly session last spring for Capital News Service on behalf of over 70 news publications across the state. She has also published work on WTVR-CBS 6's website, a part of the iPadJournos project at VCU.