Salvation in Education

Trafficking survivor appointed to national advisory council

By Lucero Benitez

In 2015, then 21-year-old Suleman Masood sat among more than a dozen students in a victimology course at Fresno State, learning the subject while also learning how to cope with his personal experience as a victim of domestic labor trafficking.

“I was learning something new every day, and I was getting stronger and it was helping me come back to who I used to be,” Masood says.

Only three years prior, at 18 years old, Masood was trafficked from Orange County to the Bay Area. There, he says he worked 18 hours a day, slept for two, and was beaten and manipulated for four. The abuse went on for two years until a co-worker helped him get back to his family.

His salvation was education.

“I was in the emergency room, I had multiple injuries on myself due to the victimization, but one of the things that was ingrained in me from my family, doctors, physical therapists and psychiatrists was to go to school,” Masood says.

A year and a half later, Masood graduated from community college and transferred to Fresno State because of its unique major degree option in victimology, in which students can also obtain a 12-unit Victim Services Certificate. He graduated magna cum laude in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in criminology with an emphasis in victimology.

This year, Masood was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve on the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. “It’s a two-year term, and it provides a platform for subject-matter experts on labor and sex trafficking to make recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to the President’s Interagency Task Force to monitor and combat trafficking in persons,” Masood says.


The study of victimology

His education and experiences, he says, prepared him for this responsibility. Victimology courses are designed for students interested in careers in domestic-violence programs, rape-counseling programs, victim/witness programs, or other victim-related programs at the local, state or federal level.

“In victimology we look at the consequences of victimization, and at what victims need to help attenuate these consequences, including studying how specialized victim services work and what law-enforcement, prosecution and court-related professionals can do to facilitate healing,” says Dr. Tinneke Van Camp, victimology coordinator.

Students also look at data collected through national and international victimization surveys to understand victim profiles and learn whether they reported their crime to the police, and, if not, why? Masood did report it and dealt with his case’s court proceedings while a student at Fresno State.

The more Masood learned about the criminal justice system, and the more he witnessed gaps in services, he felt enraged. As a male victim seeking services, he saw first-hand the lack thereof and felt empowered to overcome his situation and dedicate his career to helping other victims of crime.


Courage to share

The first time Masood shared his story was at a video screening on campus when he, as a polite, shy man who wasn’t ready to fully reveal his own experience, handed Dr. Yoshiko Takahashi, now associate dean of the College of Social Sciences, a piece of paper asking her to share his story.

That was only the beginning for Masood. He decided the best revenge was success, and he continued to share his story. “Despite the fact that his story was heartbreaking, his strength, courage and confidence as a crime survivor relayed positive energy to the audience,” Takahashi says. “I was crying during his presentation because I was so grateful to have shared that moment with him and celebrated his success.”

Faculty support during a time of his life where he was dealing with school and court proceedings was extremely valuable to him.

“Fresno State gave me the best education you can possibly ask for. They continue to set the standard for having real-world professors with real-world experience and bringing that into the classroom. That type of education or that time, I don’t take that for granted,” Masood says.


Taking action

After graduation, Masood served as a fellow in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Human Trafficking Leadership Academy and as an advisory board member for the U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. He continues to provide trainings to agencies across the nation. He also provides trauma-informed strategies on human trafficking from a public health approach at ICF, a global consulting services company.

This summer, he was accepted into the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law where he is working on his doctorate in criminal law.

“I hope to serve as a ‘progressive prosecutor’ where I can help bridge the gap between victim advocacy and prosecution,” he says. “I aspire to partner with and empower every survivor of a crime I will have the privilege of working with. As a survivor, I have a detailed understanding of how to meet the needs of survivors of crime from a personal and professional perspective, and I am committed to changing the culture of social justice to reflect survivor empowerment.”

—Lucero Benitez is a communications specialist for the College of Social Sciences at Fresno State.