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Regis College valedictorian presents research on human trafficking

July 9, 2009

Franklin student recognized nationally for work on conditions affecting flesh trade

Human trafficking thrives. To cure it, one must understand it, in all its complexities.

Adriana Marcelli of Franklin, valedictorian of the Regis College class of ’09, recently gave a poster presentation on human trafficking at the 21st annual Association for Psychological Science (APS) convention in San Francisco. The presentation, entitled Why the Flesh Trade Thrives: An Examination of Two Perspectives, was co-authored with Boston University research fellow David Goodman. In the presentation, the authors explore current theories about why human trafficking thrives and come up with some ideas of their own. A paper that Marcelli wrote for the Regis Honors Program Seminar was the basis for the presentation.

“Human trafficking isn’t just sexual servitude but also includes forced labor and recruiting children to serve as soldiers,” explained Marcelli, adding that there are even people who are trafficked to harvest organs.

“It’s not just a response to supply and demand,” she said, although marketplace dynamics, including cheap labor, play a role in the growth of trafficking. “And it’s not just a feminist question. Human trafficking thrives in countries dominated by patriarchal institutions. By oppressing women and denying them the right to pursue the same social, educational and political opportunities afforded to males, these power structures have created cultures that allow women to be easily victimized and legitimize the abuse and exploitation of women. But that doesn’t explain the 30 percent of cases that are not women” she added.

Other conditions also spur the growth in trafficking, including poverty, lack of education, political strife, and social inequality. “Poor families buy into promises of traffickers that they (the daughter they’re selling) will get a good job. There’s also the fact that it’s a low-risk operation; there are few legal repercussions,” said Marcelli, noting that usually traffickers work for large organized crime syndicates. She calls for better education for women and significantly higher penalties for those convicted of trafficking.

Adriana’s invitation to present on human trafficking at the national APS conference was, according to Regis College vice president Paula Harbecke, “an extremely high honor for an undergraduate student.”

It was one of several honors that Marcelli garnered this year at Regis College in Weston, which recently conferred upon her a bachelor’s degree in psychology. The valedictorian of the Class of 2009, she sustained a grade point average of 3.925 over four years, was enrolled in the College’s honors program and was a member of three national honor societies. During spring break, she was selected to travel to Rome as one of the college’s 10 Kathryn Erat Scholars in a Christian Immersion program exploring the roots of faith.

For the past four years, Marcelli has worked as a departmental assistant in the Psychology Department serving as a peer mentor and tutor, and as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in several courses.

“If you knew me at Franklin High School, you wouldn’t predict where I am now,” she said, noting that she “had the benefit of a lot of wonderful people at Regis “ but was turned on to the research by Professor Cynthia Phelan in her course on the psychology of women.

While uncertain about her long-term career goals, she is weighing going to work for AmeriCorps and applying for a Fulbright fellowship. She continues her work as a research assistant for co-author David Goodman at Boston University.

Press Release: June 15, 2009
Contact: Marjorie Arons-Barron, (617)423-7770;

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