Human Trafficking Research Initiative (HTRI)

The Human Trafficking Research Initiative (HTRI) is an interdisciplinary, community-engaged research center at the Kent School of Social Work.  The Human Trafficking Research Initiative is staffed by UofL academics and researchers, as well as community research partners including law enforcement and victim service providers.

Dr. Jennifer Middleton (Kent School of Social Work) and Dr. Theresa Hayden (Department of Criminal Justice) are the co-founders of the Initiative.  Dr. Middleton currently serves as the Director and is responsible for overseeing project development, grant writing, and research activities. The goal of the HTRI is to be a central source of research on human trafficking to inform the decisions made by those who contact victims, survivors, and perpetrators of human trafficking including law enforcement, prosecutors, educators, medical services, and social services. Research disseminated from the HTRI will significantly contribute to our knowledge base regarding human trafficking by introducing innovative research methodologies and unique partnerships in the development of new knowledge.

HTRI Overview from Dr. Jennifer Middleton

"Our team has been working with the Governor's Office, the Office of the Attorney General, and local and state human trafficking task forces to develop and sustain a strong, interdisciplinary research collaboration focusing on the human trafficking research needs in our community and across the state. As part of the development of the HTRI, we traveled to several other communities around the United States to gather information about their local and state task forces, anti-trafficking programs, and research teams. In October of 2015, we met with Ernie Allen (co-founder of NCMEC) to discuss our ideas and firm up our research goals and objectives as they pertain to Louisville and the state as a whole. In addition, Ernie, who is originally from Louisville, expressed a sincere interest in our work and was very passionate about the need for more rigorous research in the area of human trafficking.

So, in response to his call for action, and with the support of a number of our community partners, survivor leaders, and state partners, we developed the Human Trafficking Research Initiative at UofL.

The work of the HTRI has elevated the Kent School of Social Work as a leader/co-leader in trafficking research in our community, state, and even nationally. Our team holds executive leadership positions within the Global Association of Human Trafficking Scholars, has published our research findings in peer-review journals with international readership, and presents emergent research findings annually at the International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference .  Our research provides significant opportunities for Kent School students and faculty to become involved in this important and rewarding work. In addition, we have successfully secured a significant amount of grant funding over the next several years, which will inform child trafficking-related practice and policy changes across the nation and contribute to the ever-growing body of research in the field of human trafficking."

Journal Articles

A five-year analysis of child trafficking in the United States: Exploring case characteristics and outcomes to inform child welfare system response (Middleton & Edwards, 2020) 

Detecting child trafficking within the child welfare system: recommendations and best practices for screening and identification protocols in the United States (Middleton & Edwards, 2021)


Click here to download the 2021 Project PIVOT Final Report

Click here to download the Kentucky 2016 YES Report

Areas of Expertise:

Dr. Jennifer Middleton:  Domestic minor sex trafficking; trauma-resilient systems of care for victims and survivors of sex trafficking; structural violence

Dr. Bradley Campbell:  Policing, particularly police investigations, organizations, and responses to victims of sexual violence

Dr. Laura M. Frey:  Exploring mental health needs and self-harming behavior; Developing education and screening to reduce suicidal behavior among survivors of sex trafficking.

Dr. Lesley Harris:  Utilizing Trauma-informed qualitative research and photovoice methods with survivors of child trafficking

Dr. Theresa Hayden: Analyzing open source indicators of sex trafficking

Dr. Zhixia (Richard) Li:  Assistant Professor of Transportation Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; researching areas of traffic safety, traffic operations and control, traffic simulation, GIS-Transportation,  autonomous/connected vehicles, ITS,  and transportation policy. He is currently developing an interdisciplinary research project that focuses on the use of GPS data and vulnerability factors to predict routes and trips of human traffickers, demand and volume (e.g., numbers of traffickers at events), and event-induced trafficking trips

Dr. Olfa Nasraoui:  Professor and Endowed Chair for E-commerce, Computer Engineering and Computer Science at the UofL J.B. Speed School of Engineering; founding director of the Knowledge Discovery & Web Mining Lab at UofL; using big data, data mining, and web profiling to combat human trafficking

Dr. Jennie Green, MD:  Child Abuse Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, UofL School of Medicine; Norton Children's Hospital Child Protection Team; developing and implementing high risk screening and assessment tools to identify victims and survivors of human trafficking in medical settings

Key Community Partners:

Center for Trauma Resilient Communities

Coalition Supporting Young Adults


Home of the Innocents

Kentucky Cabinet for Health & Human Services, Department for Community Based Services (DCBS)

Kentucky Office of the Attorney General

Kentucky Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force

Kentucky Youth Advocates

Kristy Love Foundation

Louisville Metro Human Trafficking Task Force

Louisville Metro Police Department


Southern Indiana Human Trafficking Coalition

Youth Transitional Services

YMCA Safe Place