To many people, the idea of slavery is so far removed that it sounds like a thing of the past. The term is now commonly used facetiously–but Davina P. Durgana knows that modern-day slavery is far from over. Davina has spent nearly a decade building a career dedicated to using statistical modelling to understanding the concept of slavery today. She is considered an expert in the matter and applies her knowledge in analytics to create demonstrations that delve into its vulnerability, risk and prevalence.
“I began studying modern slavery in 2006 following a mission trip to El Salvador where we witnessed firsthand the dangers that many vulnerable children around the world face daily,” she said. “I returned to Washington, DC and began working with every human rights and human trafficking organization that I could find.”
Human trafficking, often reduced to simply prostitution, runs rampant and uncontrolled in India and other parts of South Asia, but is not limited to third-world countries. According to the Global Slavery Index, 45.8 million people in over 167 countries are enslaved in the world today, but not enough people are working to fight against it. In fact, Davina maintains that most people unwittingly contribute to it.
“Human trafficking occurs in every country in the world and that we are all implicated in some way,” she said. “As a commercial crime, we must be responsible consumers – both of goods and labour – to ensure that more people are not victimized in the process.
Davina takes it upon herself to learn about this international struggle by centring it as the core of her work. She is a Senior Statistician and Report co-author at the Global Slavery Index of the Walk Free Foundation, as well as an Assistant Professor and Senior Practitioner Faculty at SIT Graduate Institute in Washington, D.C.
At George Washington University in Maryland, she received her BA in International Affairs, concentrating on Conflict Resolution. She went on to earn her Masters in Political Science in Paris and zeroed in on her focus through statistical modelling while earning her PhD in International Relations and Human Trafficking at the American University.
Using statistics to analyze the problem allows for her to develop more realistic insights.
“I realized that we were not being objective and factual about the types of slavery and victims that we were publicly discussing in the field and decided to pursue statistical modeling during my PhD so that I could ensure that reliable tools and models could exist to better understand vulnerability factors and prevalence rates of modern slavery,” Davina said.
The worldly woman uses her global studies to actively pursue opportunities where she can use her abilities to make a difference. The American Sociological Association, the International Studies Association and the Washington Times have all sought her perspective.
She described the biggest challenge in effecting change lies in collaboration and data sharing among key anti-slavery stakeholders but says it is improving “with more UN level coordination and collaboration under Alliance 8.7 to address solutions to modern slavery.”
She uses her deep knowledge and academic background in human trafficking issues to volunteer as a sex trafficking specialist with the National Court-Appointed Special Advocates in DC, and as an EMT and volunteering with fire departments to develop training protocols to handle such issues. She is also a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in three states.
Davina’s work is recognized for her numerous achievements. In 2016, she was awarded the Statistical Advocate of the Year. She was a Google Fellow for Technology and Social Change for her work in Human Trafficking and Tech and was listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science this year for her work in statistical modelling. Trafficking in America Task Force also honoured her work in the Anti-Trafficking Field in the US. She currently focuses on constructing human trafficking models and profiling vulnerability to this crime in the United States and around the world.
Davina’s favourite part of the job is working with colleagues worldwide and the opportunity to innovate using statistical methods to “improve our ability to know more about the most vulnerable populations at risk of modern slavery.” As far as her long-term aspirations, Davina said, “Ultimately, I hope to be a part of the eradication of modern slavery through effective interventions that are informed by a strong statistical evidence base.”