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UIndy alum battles human trafficking around the world

While many doctors enjoy the resources of large clinics or hospitals, Dr. Katherine Welch, ‘93, delivers medical care in some of the most remote areas of the world, sometimes with few of the amenities typical for physicians today.

Alumnus Katherine Welch (UIndy '93) holds a discussion on human trafficking with pre-med and science students on April 6, 2017. (Photo by D. Todd Moore)
Alumnus Dr. Katherine Welch (’93) held a discussion on human trafficking with pre-med and science students on April 6, 2017. (Photo by D. Todd Moore)

Welch is the founder of Relentless, a Thailand-based global consulting agency that trains organizations to assist populations that oftentimes are victims of abuse, exploitation and trafficking and have no access to medical services. She is a global leader in the fight against human trafficking, a scenario she never imagined as a chemistry student at the University of Indianapolis.

Welch shared some of her stories and experiences during a recent visit to UIndy, where she met with pre-med students and other members of the campus community. She will deliver the keynote address at the 2017 Commencement, and is one of three honorary degree recipients, including Marc Adams and Ken “Doc” Borden.

In 2000, Welch was a medical student and accepted a residency serving people along the Thai-Burma border. It proved to be a life-changing experience that set her on a journey to serve people others have forgotten.

“It was that first experience at the border hospital where my sense of justice was deeply moved and sparked. I had never before encountered refugees, migrants, people living in such conditions, fleeing from their own government, and most of all, so many people without any health care at all,” Welch said.

She acknowledges the slow nature of the recovery process for people who manage to escape modern-day slavery – and the complexity of the problem. That’s where Relentless comes in. On any given day, Welch might be conducting workshops on developing health care protocols in a shelter to educating staff on the nuances of trauma-informed care and issues they might encounter with clients.

“One of the populations I work with are men who’ve been trafficked on board fishing ships in Thailand’s $1 billion fishing industry, where they’re working in deep-sea fishing for fish or closer to shore for shrimp. Regarding the sex trafficking area, women are trafficked from South America, Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe to work for traffickers selling sex on the streets of Bangkok,” Welch said.

Relentless also helps medical professionals contribute to the fight against trafficking by training them how to work with people who have been exploited how to identify warning signs of human trafficking.

“Health professionals can play a crucial role in prevention of human trafficking,” Welch said, pointing out that human trafficking for labor or sex work can happen anywhere – even in the United States.