Feature Stories

WLP Junior Faculty Recipient Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman Returns from Summer in Brazil with Deeper Understanding of Human Trafficking

Elizabeth Hordge-FreemanWhile interviewing working class Afro-Brazilian families for her upcoming book The Color of Love, Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman began to notice shadowy figures that seemed out-of-place in the family dynamics she had traveled to Brazil to study. Hordge-Freeman, USF Assistant Professor of Sociology and recipient of the 2015 Women in Leadership and Philanthropy junior faculty award, spent sixteen months over the course of the past five years studying the interpersonal dynamics of ten families, finding that racial hierarchies and stigmas exist within families. She finds that many black Brazilian families reject elements of dominant racial hierarchies, while still treating young women, in particular, with lighter skin and "whiter features" better than their "black-looking" sisters. That study is the subject of her book The Color of Love, which will be available on October 30, 2015, and can be pre-ordered now.


Even more shocking to Hordge-Freeman was that she had unwittingly uncovered a phenomenon of women, whom she now calls "second-class daughters," living among the community that she studied, who had been taken from rural areas and "adopted" and then were made to work as servants for their new "family." She learned that this form of human trafficking was quite common, and she felt compelled to extend her research to learn more about these women, who had essentially lived, as modern-day slaves for decades and had lost their sense of a separate identity. One woman, in particular, whom she has now visited over the past five years, pleaded with Hordge-Freeman, stating, "I have been here 48 years, when am I going to get my freedom?" Hordge-Freeman stated, "there has not been a contemporary longitudinal study like this, in which a sociologist has developed a long-term research relationship with a group of "adopted daughters." She was therefore in a unique position to learn more about the women whom she had discovered living in slave-like domestic servitude in their own families. During the summer of 2015, she returned to Brazil, having already developed relationships built on mutual respect and trust, to delve more deeply into this important issue of modern slavery, which has global ramifications. She was able to undertake this summer project utilizing the funds from her WLP
award as well as a Ruth Landes Memorial Fund Grant and the American Sociological Association Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline. She will return to Brazil in March 2016 with a Fulbright U.S. scholar grant to collect more data for her third book project "Second-Class Daughters: Informal Adoption as Modern Slavery in Brazil."


research-team-meetingWith the funding she received, she expanded the project to five regions in Brazil, including Manaus in the Amazonas State and Rio De Janeiro, which were beyond her original scope. She said, "My goal is to capture regional specificities, while also revealing the ways that contemporary forms of slavery impact all regions in Brazil."

Hordge-Freeman said of this phenomenon of women who have been exploited in this way, "It means that a person may lose any hope of living their own lives." In fact, some of the "second-class daughters" are not given the opportunity to attend school as their "sisters" do, which makes it difficult for them to leave their "families" once they reach adulthood. Even more disturbing, Hordge-Freeman found in some cases, the women living in modern day slavery struggle with sometimes wanting to leave, and may feel paralyzed by fear because they know of no other way of life and have little to no social networks outside of the "family."

Hordge-Freeman traveled to meet with Domestic Workers Union leaders, feminist leaders, politicians, and lawyers to try to understand what could be done. She discovered, however, that although Brazil has passed what she called, "some of the most comprehensive laws for domestic workers in the hemisphere," these laws, at least at this point, do not apply to the "adopted daughters," as they are considered family members, despite the fact, that as she says, "they are not treated as daughters. They are sometimes made to sleep on the floor" by their adopted "families." Perhaps instead by shining a much-needed light on these circumstances as she plans to do, there is hope, which would be a wonderful benefit of her research.

research-meetingIn fact, Hordge-Freeman is an exemplary community engaged scholar skilled in her ability to develop research that is mutually beneficial to the communities where she conducts her work. In recognition of this fine work, in 2015 she was named the inaugural recipient of the Outstanding Community Engaged Teaching Award, a Provost award initiated and evaluated by the Office of Community Engagement (http://www.usf.edu/ engagement/), as well as the Outstanding Teaching Award. Through her experience teaching a service-learning class in Brazil, for which she received an OCEP service learning mini-grant, she learned how best to involve students, in that case both USF students and Brazilian students from the Steve Biko Institute, in her research. 

That experience proved a useful pilot for her to discover best practices for global service-learning and community engaged research projects. While in Salvador, Bahia, she lectured to summer abroad groups from Spelman College, College of New Rochelle, and CUNY-Brooklyn, thereby extending their understanding of how important it is for study abroad students to become more deeply engaged in a mutually-beneficial way in the countries they visit.

"By sharing my research approach and findings with students from US institutions, I hope to persuade them to develop research projects that reflect critical global engagement and respond to the needs of community organizations. I also hope to create opportunities to bring Afro-Brazilian students to the U.S.," said HordgeResearch team meeting with the Domestic Workers' Union
in João Pessoa, Paraíba (June 2015) Research meeting with the founder and members of the feminist organization Bamidelê, which is organizing a campaign to empower black Brazilian women in João Pessoa, Paraíba. Freeman. Acknowledging Hordge-Freeman's leadership in this area, USF's OCEP, which has as its mission to expand community engaged research and service-learning opportunities at USF, nominated Hordge-Freeman for the 2015 Ernest Lynton Early Career Award for the Scholarship of Engagement, and she was subsequently selected as a national finalist for that award.

Additionally, while Hordge-Freeman was in Brazil this summer, she began recruiting the team of Brazilian graduate students who will assist her in her research. Hordge-Freeman is exemplary in her ability to skillfully and fluidly involve USF students and Brazilian students in her research. She has even begun to lay the groundwork to extend this research to study human trafficking in the United States. She believes that by applying what she learns from the research in Brazil about "the ideologies, the complex social relationships, and social psychological factors that can often cause victims of human trafficking to actually identify with and be unable or unwilling to leave their captors," she can find commonality in the factors that contribute to human trafficking in
a broader global context.

She said of her research in Brazil, "this is not what we typically think about when we think about human trafficking, but in fact, there are issues related to labor all over the world, where people are forced to work against their will. This Brazilian case is quite pernicious due to the powerful 'family' dynamic."

Her plan for the work in the United States is to enhance what we know about "survivor reintegration and increase the effectiveness of law enforcement and service providers by working in partnership with human trafficking survivors." She has applied for funding from the National Institute of Justice to "use a collaborative partnership with a survivor-led advisory board to investigate how family support systems influence survivors' reintegration into society." She believes that relying on the input of trafficking survivors themselves is an important step in establishing best practices for understanding the challenges that trafficking survivors face, which can often be a difficult and painful process. 

To learn more about Hordge-Freeman's work, visit her website at http://www.drhordgefreeman.com/. For an advance purchase of her book, go to http://www.amazon.com/The-Color-Love-Socialization-Brazilian/dp/1477307885. To learn more about how to become involved or to support community engaged scholarship by faculty and students at USF, please visit http://www.usf.edu/engagement/ or to sign up for the OCEP e-newsletter for more stories like this one about community engaged scholarship at USF go to http://usf-communityengagement.org/keep-me-in-the-loop/.