Researcher of the Year Charles E. Hounmenou

Charles Hounmenou
Charles Hounmenou (Photo: Brian Tibbs)

Charles E. Hounmenou
Social Sciences, Rising Star
Assistant professor of social work

Years at UIC:
• August 2015 – Present: Assistant professor, Jane Addams College of Social Work.
• December 2009 – December 2012: visiting research specialist, Center for Social Policy & Research, UIC.
• August 2006 – December 2009: Ph.D. studies in social work.

What are your research interests? 
• Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children
• Prison reform and human rights of detainees
• Community policing

How did you become interested in these topics?
I became interested in the topic of human trafficking in 2001 in Benin after MV Itireno, an infamous ship, with its cargo of over 200 child victims of international labor trafficking, was stranded at sea for days after being turned away by the Gabon Government. The children were destined to be used as labor slaves in Gabon. The children were from Benin, Togo and Mali, three countries in West Africa considered some of the biggest providers of about 200,000 children that UNICEF estimated were trafficked across West and Central Africa every year. At that time, I was a high school teacher and an outreach specialist at the SOS Children’s Villages in Benin, an international organization that participated in efforts to reintegrate some of the children rescued from the ship. I participated in efforts to assist the rescued child victims. Since then, I have done substantial research on human trafficking in the West African region and Illinois.

I became interested in the topic of prison reform and human rights of detainees when I was working with a national organization that has been advocating for prison reform in the U.S. for more than 50 years. My interest in community policing started with Citizens Alert, the first community organization that spearheaded major advocacy coalitions to tackle the issue of police brutality and create the first police accountability review board in Chicago.

What do you teach?
• SocW 410 – Human Behavior and the Social Environment
• SocW 420 – Social Welfare Policy and Services
• SocW 460 – Social Work Research
• SocW 538 – Social Work and Human Rights

How do you balance teaching and research?
Once the schedule of the courses I have to teach is known, I prepare the classes far ahead of time, because I need substantial time to write for publication and develop research grant proposals. I manage to publish two peer-reviewed articles and submit one major grant proposal a year. Writing a grant is time-consuming, especially as a junior faculty trying to navigate the federal and foundation grantmaking systems, and collaborate with colleagues nationally and internationally for research purposes. At the same time, my expertise in the area of human trafficking is sought by policymakers, media people and community organizations. Thus, I have to balance teaching and research while making time to apply my research in services with various communities interested in developing awareness about human trafficking.

What’s your advice to students who want to focus their future careers on research?
I rarely miss opportunities to motivate my students to seriously consider applying for doctoral studies. I tell them that my career in research provides me freedom and opportunity to make contributions to efforts being made at various levels to address social problems and change social policies I care more about. I like telling them that the value of a researcher cannot be viewed in terms of how much they make financially, but in how much their research has impacted science and development.

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