November 4, 2020 at 12:45pm
Dane Lisser

Millikin Human Trafficking Research Lab to use grant for research on efforts in central Illinois counties

This fall, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) awarded a $1.29 million grant to support programs for survivors of human trafficking and bolster policing efforts for the Central Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force. Millikin University's Human Trafficking Research Lab was designated as a subgrantee of the grant to be used over the next three years for research on efforts in 46 central Illinois counties.

As part of the grant, Millikin's Human Trafficking Research Lab, founded by Dr. Laura Dean, associate professor of political science, will research and facilitate data collection and provide a community assessment of anti-trafficking task force activities.

Laura Dean

Dr. Laura Dean, associate professor of political science and founder of Millikin's Human Trafficking Research Lab

The research lab, which includes two undergraduate research assistants, will conduct a community assessment of the Central Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force to determine the characteristics of human trafficking in central Illinois, and demonstrate how the data can be used to strengthen and combat trends in the region.

"My students and I have been working with the Central Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force since 2018. We meet with the State's Attorney, Illinois State Police and different service providers in the region that help human trafficking victims," said Dean.

At Millikin, Dean's advocacy and research has allowed her students to directly engage with the issue of human trafficking and has resulted in a concerted effort to both raise awareness and provide members of the Millikin community with tools to recognize and combat the problem.

Dean was selected to head up the task force's research subcommittee where she and her students have been conducting research for the past two years. Prior to receiving funding, Dr. Dean and her students provided a presentation to administrators on how they would utilize the grant for research purposes.

Millikin Model UN

"I feel that research and human trafficking really lends itself to this community involvement and that's why we've always been involved," said Dean.

Dean and her students work with the Center for Prevention of Abuse and Illinois State Police on reporting performance data as well as information to help develop a comprehensive understanding of the problem of human trafficking in central Illinois. They also work with the task force coordinator to track trainings and awareness activities, and evaluate effectiveness.

"My students and I have been on the frontlines of doing research for the task force. It's a great professionalization opportunity," Dean said. "Whenever we present to the task force, we submit policy briefs and it bridges that gap between academia and the local community."

Every year at Millikin, Dean's Human Trafficking Research Lab brings speakers to campus for a panel discussion for human trafficking month in January so students, faculty and staff can stay informed about the issue and learn to recognize human trafficking within the community.

"Learn how this crime manifests in our community, read the resources provided by local organizations, and if you think you encounter a human trafficking situation please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1.888.373.7888," Dean said.

Laura Dean Millikin University

The focus of the grant, according to Dean, will look at what the task force is doing right or wrong. "We are working with real people who are combating this issue and people who rehabilitate victims," Dean said.

According to the Center for Prevention of Abuse, the Central Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force was formed in 2017. The task force includes 40 agencies and 85 members serving the central Illinois region. Since opening, the Human Trafficking Services department has provided free and confidential services to more than 75 survivors, 88 percent of whom are from central Illinois. The National Human Trafficking Hotline also ranks Illinois in the top 10 for trafficking. 

"The task force needed a data collection entity, and they could have gone with a private research firm, but they love the fact that undergraduate students are involved to work on this issue," Dean said. "The whole idea of Performance Learning that we do at Millikin played a factor in us being able to get this grant."

Moving forward, Dean says they will assess the trafficking task force efforts at the beginning and at the end of the grant where they will perform a post-test with the same people to see how the task force has grown over the three-year span.

Millikin Human Trafficking Campaign

"It will be interesting to do that comparison, plus students getting out into the community, talking with people and doing professional interviews is a great opportunity," Dean said. "Most of our students go to law school and in that field you have to interview witnesses and people testifying, and I think this experience is a great precursor to their future careers no matter what they choose. The data encryption focus will also be great experience for those who want to go into cybersecurity or work for the Department of Homeland Security … these are all great skills for our students to have."

The Human Trafficking Research Lab (HTRL) at Millikin University was established in 2018 to transform undergraduate Performance Learning projects into cutting edge human trafficking research. The HTRL team at Millikin conducts policy relevant research on human trafficking within the United States and internationally. The lab formulates human trafficking research by training students to collect, analyze and write up results, and disseminate these findings to the academic and local community. For more information, visit