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UMass College of Nursing offers new course on human trafficking

(Erica Lowenkron / Daily Collegian)

Graduate students at UMass Amherst have a reason to be excited for this fall semester: The UMass College of Nursing is offering a new online course on human trafficking this fall.

The course will be taught by Donna Sabella, an expert in the field of human trafficking. Sabella has organized a number of national projects to help victims of this scourge.

“The course will introduce students to what human trafficking is, how to identify victims, the health problems commonly associated with this population, special considerations to be aware of when working with trafficking victims and how to access services for them,” stated the UMass press release about the course.

Sabella’s course is the first of its kind at UMass, and is offered online so that students from all over the country can register. It is also open to all academic disciplines, so that graduate students of all backgrounds can gain knowledge on the subject of human trafficking.

“As the course is open to all disciplines, I also adapt the content so that it meets the needs of all backgrounds,” Sabella clarified.

Sabella currently holds the position of UMass College of Nursing’s first endowed chair, a position she took early last year. She also has experience working with human trafficking victims in Philadelphia and Phoenix.

“I worked in the Philadelphia Prison System through my Project Phoenix to conduct support groups for women, and was also a co-founder and first Program Director of Dawn’s Place—a residential treatment program in Philadelphia for trafficked and prostituted women,” she explained.

Courses on social justice issues, such as human trafficking, can help medical clinicians and other professionals to recognize signs of such activity when treating victims, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website.

“I think it’s important for nursing students to have a good grasp on social justice issues,” noted Ellen Smithline, a second-year Ph.D. student in the UMass Nursing program who has worked as a nurse and clinical educator in the emergency department for over 23 years.

“As patient advocates, our goal is to care for the patient, and they need a voice to be heard.”

Smithline points out, “Oftentimes, it is difficult for nurses, especially in a busy department like the emergency room, to learn what it takes to recognize it and to communicate with victims safely.”

Smithline illustrated how this type of course could be of help, even to someone who has already been working in the field.

“Such a course is giving us clues inside how this whole process works for sex trafficking—it is giving us the tools to recognize it, to communicate with the victim without putting them at increasing harm –-and to know what support system and what laws are there to help the victim get assistance,” Smithline said.

“I hope that they leave with a solid understanding of what HT is, including the who, what, when, where, why and how—and  what it is not—and how to identify and offer appropriate support to human trafficking victims,” Sabella concluded.

Lily Vesel can be reached at

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