Five Years of the Human Trafficking Research Lab!

As I am gearing up for another busy Human Trafficking Awareness Month this January, I am also reflecting and celebrating five years of the Human Trafficking Research Lab (HTRL) at Millikin University! It is hard to believe that it has been five years since I established the HTRL in 2018 and how much we have grown and accomplished over the last five years. With that in mind I wanted to take a look back at how far we come and how I got the idea to start the lab. It all started in October 2017 when I attended the first A21 Walk for Freedom in Springfield. At the walk I connected with local human trafficking advocates in Central Illinois and was appointed to the newly formed Central Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force (CIHTTF). 
My first CIHTTF meeting.

In Fall 2017, I also taught my Human Trafficking class at Millikin University for the first time. The class filled the first day of registration and I began to see just how popular this topic was with undergraduate students. I thought that I should start researching this topic in the United States (most of my research on human trafficking up until this point had been on international aspects in Eurasia) and so I had students for one of the class papers investigate human trafficking task forces as a pre-test for my research. 

The table where the HTRL started in my office!

After that semester in early 2018, I started the lab with the idea of trying to integrate undergraduate students into my research, a student from my class who was particularly interested in human trafficking, and an application to Millikin's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. I borrowed an old table from my parents to set up in my office for meetings, we got the grant to begin our research, and then I starting sketching out an outline for what the lab should look like in the future.
Julisa and I getting ready for our first presentation at the Department of Justice Office in Springfield.

I also started my Human Trafficking Awareness Month panel discussion in January 2018 and began my long standing partnership with Set Free Macon County, a local anti-trafficking prevention organization in Decatur. We used our contacts from the Central Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force and had great attendance at our first event. We pivoted due to the pandemic and did an online panel discussion in 2021 and this year will host the Sixth Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Month panel discussion in January 31, 2023. 
Our first panel discussion "Exploitation To Prison: The Human Trafficking Pipeline" January 2018

Our online panel discussion in 2021.

Then as head of the research subcommittee of the Central Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force we began applying for federal grants to support the work of the task force with the lab as the research entity and thankfully we were awarded an Enhanced Collaborative Model Task Force to Combat Human Trafficking grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime. The Human Trafficking Research Lab was designated as a sub-grantee of the grant to be used over the next three years for research on anti-trafficking efforts in 46 central Illinois counties. Here is a story the Millikin PR team wrote on the grant Millikin Human Trafficking Research Lab to use grant for research on efforts in central Illinois counties.

Over the past five years I have had eight different research assistants in the HTRL working a variety of different projects. We have presented our research often at the Central Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force and then at other professional academic conferences including the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) Conference in Chicago in April 2022 and Beyond Discourse: Critical and Empirical Approaches to Human Trafficking in Kansas in April 2019. 
Presenting our research at MPSA.
Julisa winning third place!

We have also published two academic articles, two reports for the grant, and two policy briefs. My students have also won awards for their research including first place at the 29th Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and the Judith & G. Richard Locke Poster Symposium and third place at the 26th Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and the Judith & G. Richard Locke Poster Symposium at Celebrations of Scholarship at Millikin University.
Ngabo winning first place!

The HTRL logo was born and I started the blog and website in 2019 which has been a great way to showcase our work and have students chronicle their research output in smaller chunks We also were given a lab space at Millikin University in 2021 and with a few upgrades and new paint job, we now have a place to showcase our research, welcome guests, and work on our research together.
Meetings with Illinois State Police and Metropolitan Family Services staff from the new office in Decatur.
Local TV station interview for Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

We are currently working on publishing a third article on the adjudication of human trafficking in Central Illinois, a third policy brief on CIHTTF trainings, and also a third report, so we are busier than ever in the HTRL. Thanks to everyone who has supported our efforts over the last five years, we could not have done it without the funding for student faculty collaborative research! If you want to donate to the lab and support future student research efforts on human trafficking in Central Illinois you can do so here

Here are some final photos of my research assistants over the years!


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