Criminal justice professor’s collaborative research on human trafficking lands publication contract

Criminal justice professor Erin Heil's collaborative research with Andrea Nichols, Washington University Sociology and Criminal Justice professor, covers human trafficking locally. It will be published by Carolina Academic Press as a supplemental book to sociology college curriculum textbooks. Photo by Theresa San Luis

Sex trafficking can sometimes be confused with or overlap with prostitution. Labor trafficking is basically modern day slavery. And it happens locally in Metro East-not just large cities.

This is according to criminal justice studies professor Erin Heil in her research collaboration with Andrea Nichols, Washington University sociology and criminal justice professor.

Their research on local sex trafficking and labor trafficking has been accepted into a book publishing contract with the Carolina Academic Press. Within universities, it will become a supplemental book to textbooks on sociology and criminal justice.

The publication contract, according to Heil, is a great honor and she looks forward to seeing the final product and how it could bring awareness to the trafficking problem.

“It’s our hope that [the book is] going to increase identification and awareness–that human trafficking can occur anywhere,” Heil said.

The Midwest, according to Heil, is not known for human trafficking, but the research “pulls off a new layer of human trafficking in the U.S.”

Heil interviewed different task forces, such as prosecutors and local police, to identify trafficking victims in this area.

“We are seeing sex trafficking more prevalent in this area though labor [trafficking] is harder to identify,” Heil said.

As long as there is a demand, Heil said traffickers will find a way to fulfill it in any way possible.

What is interesting about sex trafficking, according to Heil, is that most of the victims have been identified as U.S. citizens after prostitution rings were busted by police. Often, those victims were underage girls.

Heil said there is no real profile of the trafficker except location desirable to a trafficker.

“We are seeing that a lot of trafficking that occurs in hotels, truck stops and massage parlors. Companies that pose as modeling and/or acting agencies trap girls as well,” Heil said.

For example, a girl who runs away from home looking for love, friendship and acceptance but has nowhere to live could become a victim, according to Heil. When they encounter the trafficker, they eventually call them “daddy” because of what they are missing.  Heil said victims tend to suffer psychological abuse, become addicted to drugs and are physically abused to be controlled.

A lot of those in labor trafficking are undocumented workers, according to Heil, which creates an obstacle in identification.

Human trafficking, according to Heil, is relatively new to U.S. legislature, which is still working on how to identify and prosecute it.

Heil and Nichols’ book will include chapters explaining sex trafficking, labor trafficking, advocate and response, and legal response.

This will be Heil’s second book publication. Her first, titled “Sex Slaves and Serfs” was published in 2012 by First Forum Academic Press.


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