Researcher Spotlight

This resource showcases some of the researchers who are focused on anti-human trafficking efforts. Are you a researcher focused on human trafficking or do you know someone we can highlight? Click this link to apply for an interview and have the chance to be featured on our researcher spotlight.

Dr. Carli Richie-Zavaleta

Dr. Carli Richie-Zavaleta DrPh, MASP, MAIPS, is an adjunct faculty member at the University of New England, where she mentors students through their capstone projects and practicum experiences. Dr. Richie-Zavaleta’s Researchfocuses on the intersection of social and healthcare services with the goal of amplifying the voices of survivors to influence policy and best practices across the board. Additionally, Dr. Richie-Zavaleta supports the ResearchCommittee for the San Diego County Human Trafficking & CSEC Advisory Council as an alternate co-chair and a researchconsultant. She is also the co-chair of the programming committee for the American Public Health Association’s Human Rights Forum. Dr. Richie-Zavaleta’s passion for her vocation shines through her work.

After her first Intro to Sociology class, Dr. Richie-Zavaleta was drawn to the field and inspired to pursue research by her Sociology professors. She learned from her professors and mentors showed her that research has the power to redirect attention and shape society. Dr. Richie-Zavaleta said, “I really liked that concept of using research one to bring out the voices of the vulnerable and using that knowledge to make changes in society.” After completing her Masters in Sociology, Dr. Richie-Zavaleta was introduced to a program in Costa Rica where she studied International Peace Studies and Conflict management. It was on that trip where she felt divine intervention call her attention to human trafficking. “I did not want to study this topic, especially at the beginning, it brought a lot of sadness to my heart, and I felt very hopeless.” After reading Dr. Kevin Bales’s book,  Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, given to her by a friend, Dr. Richie-Zavaleta felt that God showed her that she needed to work with vulnerable populations like survivors and victims of human trafficking. Continuing on her journey to find the work she felt called to do, Dr. Richie-Zavaleta became interested in public health. She recalls translating for families on mission trips being a very impactful moment. After experiencing the lack of healthcare access in Nicaragua and Mexico in her travels, Dr. Richie-Zavaleta pursued her Doctorate of Public Health.

Since then, Dr. Richie-Zalvaleta has published her work, taught at colleges and universities, and mentored students, all while balancing being a mom to her two children. Dr. Richie-Zavaleta’s studies on the intersection of public health and human trafficking such as “Compassionate Care—Going the Extra Mile: Sex Trafficking Survivors’ Recommendations for Healthcare Best Practices” has helped inform healthcare facilities’ best practices to notice the signs of human trafficking. Today, she is passionate about access to health care, the vulnerabilities of the homeless population, and bringing the voices of survivors to the table in order to influence training creating more “Evidence-based practices”. Her work is currently focused on getting a few manuscripts published this year and mentoring students. She is also looking forward to a potential grant for a research fellowship. In the future, she wants to continue to mentor students and develop her vision for expanding healthcare access across the world. Her inspiring story reminds one to listen to their calling to and work with passion. She continues to pursue her work as she inspires and mentors the future generations of interdisciplinary change makers.

More Work by Dr. Richie-Zavaleta can be found HERE.

Dr. Lianne Urada, PhD, MSW, LCSW

Dr. Lianne Urada, PhD, MSW, LCSW is an Assistant Professor at SDSU in the School of Social Work, with a focus on Community Development within the Macro Social Work track. She is an avid and passionate researcher, involved in a wide range of many federally and privately funded grants. She serves as co-chair of the Research and Data subcommittee of our San Diego Regional Human Trafficking-Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council alongside Dr. Monica Ulibarri. Dr. Urada’s passion shines through her work of extensive research projects and experiences.

Throughout her education, she was greatly influenced by her professors. While she was always interested in social activism, she was encouraged to pursue her own journey of activism through research after working with a Professor who focused on the WWII Japanese American Internment Camps in the U.S., which also had impacted her family. After she went directly from her undergraduate program to the Masters of Social Work program at UCLA, she was given the opportunity to do an internship on HIV in the Philippines (where she returned later to do her PhD dissertation). This was when HIV was at its height, and prevention was a major point of interest. She conducted outreach to women in the sex trade who worked in bars, massage parlors, and nightclubs. Her eyes were opened through this experience to the prevalence of human trafficking and the sex trade, leading up to its intersection with the HIV crisis. As she worked in the communities of Manila, she began to see the societal and structural issues that impacted women’s limited choices for employment that drove them into vulnerable situations. Thus, her eagerness to combat trafficking through intervention research began.

One of Dr. Urada’s core principles is to actively and continuously support the communities she interacts with. She doesn’t want to be a helicopter researcher, taking off once her study is done, never to be seen again. Instead, she acknowledges the deep connection she creates through her field work and passionately dives into the issues that those communities may face in the future. In each study, her favorite part of the work is being able to have direct interaction with the people. While she was in the Philippines completing her internship, she was followed every day by two little Filipina girls during her commute to work. Looking back, she finds hope in knowing that those girls were able to know about the drop-in center where they could receive services. Just by being there and meeting the community members, she made a difference. She still can remember the stories of people who struggled yet survived. The time she spent there, doing direct ground work, will always have a special place in her heart.

As a continual learner, intervention strategist, and innovative woman, Dr. Urada creatively addresses the interrelated sector of community issues and their ability to be fought with intervention research. She looks out for those who are the most hidden and marginalized, those that may not have access to beneficial services. We look forward to her valuable contribution as co-chair of the Research and Data subcommittee, and the work she continues to do in combating human trafficking.

Find work done by Dr. Lianne Urada here.


Dr. Monica Ulibarri

Dr. Monica Ulibarri is co-chair of the Research and Data subcommittee of our San Diego County Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which partners and coordinates efforts with HT-RADAR. The San Diego County Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Advisory Council has become a leader in San Diego County’s anti-trafficking work since its establishment in 2011 by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. HT-RADAR is connected to the Research & Data Subcommittee of the Advisory Council. The Co-Chairs of this subcommittee are: Lianne Urada and Monica Ulibarri. She is a Professor and Associate Program Director in the California School of Professional Psychology Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program at Alliant International University – San Diego, and holds an appointment as a Voluntary Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.

Dr. Ulibarri’s journey began as a bright undergraduate student at Claremont McKenna College. Serving as a young research assistant, she was given the opportunity to collaborate on a study on HIV cases in a women’s prison. During her interviews, she began to see common themes among the participants. There were either two scenarios presented, the partners had dragged the women into the situation that had them placed in prison, or they had done something in what they claimed to be defense of themselves or their children. This recurring narrative highlighted the gender-based violence that perpetuated these women’s stories. This experience sparked her interest in HIV prevention and gender based violence, in which she adopted a public-health perspective.

Staying research-focused throughout her education, she worked in different realms on mental health, HIV prevention, and gender-based violence. Her journey led her to conduct drug research at UCLA as she built her portfolio for clinical research. She attended graduate school at ASU, eventually coming back to San Diego at UCSD to contribute to an HIV prevention study. Many of the women Dr. Ulibarri worked with were not trafficked at the time, but had typically had some involvement with being trafficked at some point. Around this same time, she began to hear more about the trafficking issue that San Diego faced. In 2013, KPBS had a story on it. She realized that this social injustice took place right in her backyard. Her husband was conducting a study on adolescent dating violence research, and he found that adolescent dating violence could be linked to gang affiliation. The connections just kept on coming, opening her eyes to the intersectionality between gender-based violence, HIV risk, and exploitation. She began her term as co-chair of the research and data subcommittee in June 2019 alongside Dr. Lianne Urada.

She encourages those engaging in trafficking research to persevere. While discouragement is oftentimes inevitable, it is important to remember that this work is a long haul that is worth the delay of gratification. With enough drive and time to persist through obstacles that arise, you can achieve your goal.

Although there have been challenges in her effort toward uncovering and calling out injustice, Dr. Ulibarri is continually motivated by the participants she works with. She appreciates the opportunity to give them a voice while empowering them to make a difference through their experiences. As a part of the team, they work together to holistically impact the world around them.

Find work done by Dr. Monica Ulibarri here.