Melissa Torres, Ph.D., MSW

Melissa Torres, Ph.D., MSW

Adjunct Assistant Professor and Research Associate

Melissa Irene Maldonado Torres, Ph.D., is director of the Human Trafficking Research Portfolio at the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA). She oversees the Statewide Human Trafficking Mapping Project for Texas, a research initiative funded through the Criminal Justice Division of the Office of the Governor to provide empirically-grounded data about the extent of human trafficking in Texas. She received her Masters of Social Work and Ph.D. at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she is adjunct faculty and co-founder of the college’s Latin American Initiative, which provides summer learning abroad programs to Latin America in conjunction with local universities and NGOs.

Torres served as the subject matter expert on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ healthcare professional’s response to human trafficking program, an initiative of President Obama’s Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims. She developed and teaches a class on human trafficking and social work at the University of Houston and has served as the human trafficking expert for various academic studies in the U.S. and Latin America.

Over the last 10 years, her research has included the trafficking of women from Latin America for sexual exploitation, policy analysis on the protection of domestic minor sex trafficking survivors, labor abuse and exploitation faced by undocumented immigrants, assessments on displacement and knowledge of trafficking risks in indigenous communities, and exploring the demand side of sex trafficking. She has conducted training on forced migration and exploitation for legislators, investigators, healthcare professionals, and social service providers in the U.S., Mexico, El Salvador, Bolivia, Colombia, and the Netherlands.

Torres has been recognized by the U.S. Congress with a Certification of Congressional Recognition for her presentation to the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. She has presented before state legislatures and the delegates to the United Nations on the intersectionality of lacking policies and the risks faced by migrant Latinxs in the Americas, and is a delegate of the Academic Council of the United Nations System to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She serves as faculty for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s UN Practicum on Advocacy in New York City and the WILPF delegate for the Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights of the United States at the UN, Geneva. For her research and work on the exploitation of displaced Latinas, she was awarded the University of Houston Commission on Women’s Student Award for Distinguished Service to Women. She is an alumna of the Council on Social Work Education’s Minority Fellowship Program.

In her spare time, she loves being with her family, traveling the world, going to concerts, and skydiving. Of Mexican descent, Torres is a native of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and was raised on the U.S.-Mexico border. She resides in Houston with her pit bull, Dylan Aquinas.


  • Ph.D., University of Houston
  • MSW, University of Houston
  • BAH, Houston Baptist University



Social Work Building (SSW)


Mailing Address

The University of Texas at Austin
Steve Hicks School of Social Work
1925 San Jacinto Blvd 3.212E
STOP D3510
Austin, TX 78712-0358