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Melissa Torres

Graduate Research Assistant,
Center for Drug and Social Policy Research at the University of Houston;
Co-founder of the Latin American Initiative at
the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work

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Summary
Melissa Irene Maldonado Torres holds a B.A., double major in Theology and Literature, from Houston Baptist University and a masters degree from the University of Houston. She has been honoured by the US Congress for her presentation at the US Department of Labor Women’s Bureau Conference, and has served as a delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women for the last three years. At this year’s Commission, Torres served three different roles, including as an ACUNS’ delegate. The theme of the Commission was the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women. The theme relates very closely with Torres’ own work which focuses on international policy and advocacy as well as human trafficking. She points out the lack of consensus on a variety issues crucial to addressing human rights violations and preventing violence against women. For example, there is little consensus as to what qualifies as a conflict zone and what qualifies as militant conflict or political unrest. Torres explains that while Mexico is not typically thought of as a conflict zone, the drug trade there has a massive impact on human trafficking. Additionally, Torres highlights human sex trafficking as just one part of the human trafficking issue. While Torres’ work is based on facts and data, the issues she focuses on are very personal. Moving forward, Torres’ immediate goal is on post doctoral research in Latin America. She notes that her work will focus on research but also on implementation and community development.

Melissa Torres, Background
Melissa Irene Maldonado Torres, MSW received her Master’s of Social Work at the University of Houston, where she is currently a PhD candidate and Adjunct Faculty. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, a Certificate of Specialization in Professional Writing, and Bachelor’s degrees in Theology and Literature.

Melissa has been selected for the Council on Social Work Education’s Minority Fellowship Program. She was honored by the United States Congress with a Certification of Congressional Recognition for her presentation at the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau Conference. She has served as a delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women for the last three years representing women’s peace-building organizations and speaking on risks faced by women in Latin American conflict zones. Most recently, she was awarded the University of Houston Commission on Women’s Student Award for Distinguished Service to Women for her research and work on behalf of displaced Latinas.

Currently, she works as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Center for Drug and Social Policy Research at the University of Houston as well as with the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Her dissertation is entitled “Latina/os and the international sex trade: A qualitative study on the perceptions of customers, service providers and victims” and is exploring how women from Latin America are identified as victims of international sex trafficking in Houston, Texas and Los Angeles, California.

Melissa is co-founder of the Latin American Initiative at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work – a program designed to strengthen social work education, practice, research, and community development collaborations with countries throughout Latin America that are represented among Houston’s diverse Latino communities. Of Mexican descent, Melissa is a native of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and was raised on the U.S./Mexico border.

Podcast recorded July 2013.

Feature Photo Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas