Master’s Graduate Aims to Improve Treatment Facilities for Victims of Sex Trafficking

Master’s Graduate Aims to Improve Treatment Facilities for Victims of Sex Trafficking

By Chyelle Dvorak

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

It only takes one person to open the eyes of injustice. People who aspire to change the world — and then act on it — can make a difference. Taking a stand, writing something with passion, and speaking for those who can’t is what creates a true leader.

Crown College alumna Mikala Ide has stepped beyond her comfort zone to take that stand. What began as a desire to make a difference led Mikala to study the facilities that provide treatment for victims of sex trafficking. Mikala worked with Darin Mather, the Chair of the Social Science Department for the School of Online Studies at Crown College, to write a thesis on residential facilities that treat sex trafficking victims. After she graduated, Mikala published her findings in the Journal of Human Trafficking. She is now working to create an organization that will provide assessment standards to improve these facilities.

“My paper originally started as my thesis project for my master’s degree,” says Mikala. “After graduation, Dr. Mather generously agreed to join as a co-collaborator and work to get the study published. The title is The Structure and Practice of Residential Facilities for Sex Trafficking Victims. I chose this topic because I had read some articles about sex trafficking and I wanted to research something that could make a difference.”

Mikala’s research included interviewing coordinators and directors at the residential facilities and collecting data regarding their rates of success. She wanted to make sure the facilities are equipped to help their clients succeed not only in their treatment programs, but also long-term.

“I interviewed 10 facilities in the U.S. and asked them to assess their own success rate according to their standards,” says Mikala. “There was a wide range. Several gave a 100 percent success rate but they could only say for people currently in the program, not if victims were successful at remaining out of trafficking long-term. One said they only had a 10 percent success rate — meaning, 9 out of 10 reentered into sex trafficking.”

The first U.S. safe house for sex trafficking victims was created in 1992. Since these organizations are relatively new, there are few benchmarks established to assess the care they provide for victims.

“I discovered there are currently no standards of success for sex trafficking treatment facilities,” says Mikala. “I started out wanting to understand what programs are offered, how these facilities are structured, and how successful they are at helping victims of sex trafficking. The problem is that every facility defines success differently, so there is no way to understand if they are meeting the needs of sex trafficking victims.”

The differences between the treatment facilities creates a problem. Without any standard measurements for success, there is no way to tell which residential facility will provide the best care. With no organization overseeing the treatment facilities, there is no way to know if clients receive the care they claim to provide.

“One facility defined success as providing resources to victims and families,” says Mikala. “Under this definition, someone could be re-trafficked and the facility would still be considered successful. Another said simply, ‘not dead, high, or trafficked.’ This facility had a 100 percent success rate for those in the program, but currently it is not tracking what happens to victims after they leave.”

“HT-RADAR (Human Trafficking Research and Data Advisory Roundtable) noticed Mikala’s article,” says Mather. “HT-RADAR is a collaborative research environment for data analysts and researchers who have skills and interests related to human trafficking.”

HT-RADAR representatives asked Mikala to present at their conference in San Diego on May 12th. At the conference, Mikala made several key connections with people who are also interested in creating standards for residential facilities for sex trafficking victims.

Mikala presented her paper to a group of non-profit service providers, district attorneys, researchers, and a few sex trafficking survivors. For Mikala, the presentation pulled together the most important parts of her paper.

“The goal of the conference for me was to get the word out and see what the reactions would be,” says Mikala. “I received a strong reaction that the lack of standards is not okay, which is what I was hoping for.”

Now Mikala is collaborating with several people from HT-RADAR and others around the country. They’re working to explore the opportunity of establishing an agency to provide standards and training for residential facilities which serve sex trafficking victims.

“It was really rewarding for me to work with Mikala on this project,” says Mather, who was her professor, thesis advisor, and co-author. “She is passionate about making sure that residential facilities offer quality services to their clients. I enjoyed helping her develop a project that made such a clear contribution to this important community of service providers.”

Mikala graduated with her master’s degree in Organizational Leadership through the online program at Crown. She has a desire to work with non-profit organizations and has a heart for helping sex trafficking victims. Mikala currently works as an employment specialist for the Northeastern Association of the Blind. She also volunteers at a safe house for sex trafficking victims called Eyes Wide Open.

“I never saw myself as someone particularly inclined to writing or presenting,” says Mikala. “But when you find a cause, it’s just what needs to be done.”