Human Trafficking Blog

Meet the Co-Principal Investigators of The Colorado Project 2023

Research drives everything we do at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking — with “laboratory” in our name, that fact is very fitting. You may already know that lately, our research team has been working hard on The Colorado Project 2023, the third iteration report of the current state of human trafficking in Colorado and the best course of action to end this crime.

We’re thrilled to preview that report today through three voices from our research team: Julie Laser, Annie Miller, and Patti Alvarez Valverde. These individuals are Co-Principal Investigators of The Colorado Project 2023 and all serve as Board Members for our organization, too. Hear their perspective on why collaborative, community-based research is critical when it comes to creating systemic solutions for long-lasting change. 

Quote from Julie Laser, Co-Principal Investigator of The Colorado Project 2023 and LCHT Board Vice Chair

Julie Laser: “We are getting the pulse on what works in Colorado to reduce human trafficking.”

Julie Anne Laser (MSW, LCSW, Ph.D.) is a professor at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. She created and teaches the class, Human Trafficking: Prevention, Intervention, and Support of its Victims/Survivors.

Reflecting on her work on The Colorado Project 2023 and professionally, Julie shares, “My research, teaching, and clinical work are enriched by my work with LCHT, and I am able to be a better Co-Principal Investigator researcher at LCHT because of my teaching, research, and clinical expertise. It’s a symbiotic relationship.” 

When we asked Julie about why research is so important, she explained, “Because human trafficking is a human rights violation, we need to understand the issue, its root causes, and how to best and most effectively reduce people’s involvement.” She adds, “I love that at LCHT, we are getting the pulse on what works in Colorado to reduce human trafficking.”

There’s one area of The Colorado Project 2023 that Julie is passionate about. “I’m most excited that this report is looking at trust, equity, and effectiveness and how they impact reducing human trafficking in communities.” After all, “the better we understand the mechanisms that are effective in reducing human trafficking in Colorado, the closer we get to ending it.”

Quote from Annie Miller, Co-Principal Investigator of The Colorado Project 2023 and LCHT Board Member

Annie Miller: “The impact of this research is bringing this topic to the local level.”

Annie Miller, Ph.D. serves as the Associate Dean at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs. Her scholarship focuses on the effectiveness of networks and collaborations seeking to combat human trafficking and prevent targeted violence. Annie’s motivating force is to support communities to reduce hate, discrimination, bias, and identity-based violence by enhancing protective factors, both locally and globally.

Annie first became involved with the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking after she learned about individuals who were directly experiencing trafficking in Colorado. She remembers, “I started talking to friends in Durango and learning about people we knew who were experiencing labor trafficking.” Human trafficking is an issue that’s often hidden right in our own communities.

She hopes that The Colorado Project 2023 will help others have the same learning experience that she did. “I think the impact of this research is bringing this topic to the local level.” She adds, “As people identify trafficking, we have opportunities to intervene.”

Annie stresses the importance of human trafficking research: “This research is essential, especially when it’s rooted in and with local communities, to identify effective interventions, how to find and support work against trafficking at the community level, and to step aside for survivors to influence the questions asked and data collected.” The last point is what Annie is most excited about: “the ongoing leadership from community leaders and survivors in driving this research!”

In particular, the area of research that matters most to Annie — and to many members of our Colorado communities — is housing. Annie shares, “Every day, I feel more and more committed and responsible for supporting, finding, developing, and leading efforts that support access to affordable housing. The Colorado Project 2023 data continues to implicate housing as a driver to so many root causes of trafficking and violence.” We hope that this research compels urgent action when it comes to more affordable housing in Colorado.

Quote from Patricia Alvarez Valverde, Co-Principal Investigator of The Colorado Project 2023 and LCHT Board Secretary

Patti Alvarez Valverde: “This is an issue that all Coloradans need to address.”

Patricia Alvarez Valverde Ph.D., MPH is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health of the Colorado School of Public Health. She’s also the interim director of the Latino Research and Policy Center, which focuses on improving the health of Latino communities in Colorado. 

Patti shares, “I’m a public health educator and researcher with a focus on health disparities. In other words, I research why some groups of Coloradans have worse health than others. In addition, we know that human trafficking victims often have interaction with public health and health care professionals while in their trafficking situation. So I am also very interested in making sure that my public health students have some exposure to human trafficking.”

But it’s not only healthcare professionals who need to know about human trafficking. Patti continues, “Many people think that human trafficking doesn’t happen in their communities, so it is important to gather data and evidence that this is an issue that all Coloradans need to address. We need to understand better how human trafficking occurs, and what are effective responses for survivors.”

What drew Patti to LCHT in the first place was “the importance placed on research and using evidence-based or evidence-informed strategies.” She was on our Board when planning for The Colorado Project 2023 began, and then was involved in the development of the research data collection and leading some focus groups, interviews, and analysis with members of anti-trafficking coalitions across Colorado.

Patti is excited about the Action Plan recommendations from the advisory community, which will show the areas of strength and improvement when it comes to human trafficking in Colorado — and help us move forward as a state in our anti-trafficking efforts. 

About The Colorado Project

The Colorado Project is a community-based, research-focused approach to ending human trafficking in Colorado. Led by the nonprofit the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT), The Colorado Project began in 2010 as a rigorous grassroots research project that helps us uncover what human trafficking looks like in Colorado, what has been done in the past to address it, and what we can do in the future to end it.

LCHT will release the third iteration of The Colorado Project results in October 2023. Stay tuned to learn what The Colorado Project 2023 reveals as key steps to ending human trafficking in Colorado. HINT: The solution must include strengthening cross-sector partnerships, providing more professional training in key sectors, and addressing housing insecurity. In the meantime, learn more about research at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking.