Human Trafficking Research Initiative (HTRI)


The Human Trafficking Research Initiative (HTRI) is an interdisciplinary, community-engaged research partnership between faculty at the Kent School of Social Work and faculty from the Department of Criminal Justice. 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-Directors of the Initiative. The goal of the Initiative 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 Initiative will significantly contribute to our knowledge base regarding human trafficking by introducing innovative research methodologies and unique partnerships in the development of new knowledge.

Click here to download the 2021 Project PIVOT Final Report

HTRI Summary from Dr. Jennifer Middleton

"I have been working with Dr. Theresa Hayden (Department of Criminal Justice) and the Louisville Metro Human Trafficking Task Force to develop a strong, interdisciplinary research collaboration focusing on the human trafficking research needs in our community and across the state. We've 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 the coordinator of the Task Force, we developed the Human Trafficking Research Initiative at UofL.

The work of the Initiative will very much highlight the Kent School as a leader/co-leader in trafficking research in our community, and will provide significant opportunities for Kent School students and faculty to become involved in this important and rewarding work. In addition, we will be applying for several external grants over the next year and, if successful, we will be contributing to the already incredible, funded research being done at the Kent School."

Click here to download the Kentucky 2016 YES Report

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)

Areas of Expertise:

Dr. Jennifer Middleton: Domestic minor sex trafficking; trauma responsive systems of care for victims and survivors of sex trafficking

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. 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 Vavrousek, MD: Pediatric Resident, Department of Pediatrics, UofL School of Medicine; developing and implementing high risk screening and assessment tools to identify victims and survivors of human trafficking.


Key Community Partners:

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 Task Force

Youth Detention Services

YMCA Safe Place