Introductions, please

Hello, my name is Maddie LaVoie, and I’m beginning an internship with Think Kids this fall. I’d like to tell you a little about me, why I contacted Think Kids about working with them, and what I hope to learn and accomplish.

My home is in Washington State; I’m one of five children in my family. I’m here in West Virginia as a student going into my senior year at Fairmont State University. I am double majoring in National Security & Intelligence and Political Science. Ultimately, I want a career in security and intelligence. Doesn’t sound much like what Think Kids does, right? But there are two fundamental connections between my majors and the organization– an interest in protecting human rights and using data to better inform work with the intent to effectively improve the lives of children, youth, and teens.

As I have a specific interest in human trafficking, I began searching for an organization that would like to work with me and help me hone my skills to one day identify and capture those who traffic and exploit minors.  This work would be rewarding, but honestly, if you try researching the topic here in West Virginia, you don’t find a lot of information.   

What is human trafficking? As defined by U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.”

I’ve learned in college that oftentimes, those who are trafficked are done so by those they know, and people within their own communities– not secretly shipped to another country. Through further research, I learned that a survey of US survivors of sex trafficking found that 84.3 percent used substances during their trafficking exploitation.  As I think about obstacles that many of West Virginia’s kids face in order to avoid going down the path of addiction.  I’m so saddened to know that these circumstances befall many of them.

How many? We don’t know. We don’t know how many of West Virginia’s kids are trafficked. That’s something I’d like to help find out.

And so, that’s how I wound up an intern with Think Kids. Over the next few years I’m going to work on meeting experts from around the state, researching available data, and by the time I graduate, have helped craft a much clearing picture of human trafficking in West Virginia.

I’m grateful for this opportunity, and Kelli promises that they’re thrilled to have me on board. If more college students like me volunteered with groups like Think Kids, imagine the useful data we could amass to address the pressing needs of our most vulnerable kids.

I’ll be checking in via blog posts from time to time to let you know how my research is going. Thanks for reading! 

Maddie LaVoie is a Fairmont State University student and Think Kids intern.