Criminal justice researcher awarded Department of Justice grant to combat human trafficking

Oct. 2, 2015

Alexis Kennedy, associate professor of criminal justice in the UNLV Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, is among several researchers who received U.S. Department of Justice grant funding to combat human trafficking and support survivors.  

The U.S. Department of Justice announced $44 million in grant funding Sept. 24. As part of the grant, $3.5 million was allocated nationwide for research projects. The UNLV project is one of several sites selected for an anti-trafficking task award.

Human trafficking is the exploitation of local and international victims for commercial sexual activity or forced labor conditions.

Kennedy received $623,607 for a research project to further her studies on how sex trafficking affects children. While human trafficking includes international and local victims, the most common victims identified in Las Vegas are the hundreds of children forced into prostitution, according to Kennedy.

Kennedy’s study will explore the physical and psychological barriers that hinder attempts to exit prostitution. Kennedy said sexually exploited children often run away from services offered – placements, treatment programs – in part because of their strong psychological attachments to their traffickers and/or pimps. Very little is known about barriers to leaving commercial sexual exploitation, including victims’ readiness to change.

Kennedy is a forensic psychologist and former attorney with an extensive research history interviewing exploited adults and children.

Collaborating with Kennedy are Michele Decker, an associate professor of population, family and reproductive health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Decker directs the Women’s Health and Rights Program of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights. Decker has Doctorate of Science and is a social epidemiologist with expertise on trafficking for sexual exploitation and its health impact.

Andrea Cimino, a postdoctoral fellow working on the Interdisciplinary Violence Research Project  at the School of Nursing at John Hopkins University, was also named a co-investigator. Andrea Cimino has a Ph.D. in social work and brings clinical and research experience working with victims exiting prostitution.

The research project begins in January. Participants will be recruited from a sex trafficking survivor’s resource center. To read the full award and project, visit the National Institute of Justice website.

For more information, contact Alexis Kennedy at alexis.kennedy@unlv.edu