Celia Williamson is an American University of Toledo Distinguished Professor of Social Work and Executive Director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, as well as researcher and community advocate who seeks to combat domestic human trafficking and prostitution. She was named the 26th most influential social worker alive today.
Williamson is the founder of the Second Chance program (now called RISE), the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, Chairs the Research and Analysis State Trafficking Commission, and is a founding member and President of the Global Association of Human Trafficking Scholars.
She has written extensively on issues of domestic minor sex trafficking and adult prostitution in the U.S.
Williamson received her bachelor's degree in Social Work from the University of Toledo, her master's degree in Social Work from Case Western Reserve University and her Ph.D. from Indiana University.
Williamson started her career as a social worker at a community center in north Toledo working with children and families. While driving into work everyday she would see women on the street involved in prostitution. She spent six months on the street building relationships, interviewing women, and immersing herself into the culture. After six months she built the first direct service anti-trafficking program in Ohio. with initial funding from the United Methodist Church and the City of Toledo, Williamson conducted street outreach on the streets of Toledo and in jails, facilitated groups, and advocated for women and youth. She went on to win grants and bring funding to the Toledo community to provide program and services for sex trafficking victims. In 2017 the program changed its name to RISE.
After receiving her PhD, she returned to the Toledo community to build a thriving anti-trafficking coalition and serve Chair of the Research and Analysis Committee of the State's Anti-trafficking Coalition. In 2015, Williamson became the Executive Director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute at the University of Toledo. She has been hosting an annual International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference at the University of Toledo since 2004. She also founded the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, which includes local criminal justice, social service, and health care agencies, along with businesses, university members, churches, citizens, and adult survivors, and the FBI Innocence Lost Task Force.
In 1993, Williamson founded Second Chance, an organization that develops individualized service plans for women and children survivors and victims in Toledo, Ohio.
In 2009, Williamson and others founded the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition.
Williamson has also been active in advocating for legislation surrounding sex trafficking on a state level. She supported and advocated for all of the anti-trafficking bills passed in Ohio.
Under the direction of Representative Teresa Fedor and the Ohio Attorney General, Williamson became a founding member of the Ohio Human Trafficking Commission and currently serves as the Chair of the Research and Analysis Committee of the Commission.
The majority of Williamson's research is on sex trafficking and prostitution. Her research has focused on examining victims’ experiences, as well as working to create promising practices and evidence-based models of prevention for high-risk youth and quality intervention with victims. Williamson has been funded by the Department of Justice and/or National Institutes of Health for ten consecutive years from 2002-2012. She has since been funded by the State of Ohio and various local and national foundations.
Her 2010 study, entitled “Exiting Prostitution: An Integrated Model,” focused specifically on the challenges encountered by women attempting to exit the commercial sex industry. Her 2009 study, “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: A Network of Underground Players in the Midwest” explored women's experiences with: (a) violence, (b) HIV risks and condom use, (c) emotional and physical health, (d) substance use, (e) home life and street life, and (f) experiences with local 130 systems including the juvenile justice system, the social service system, and the health care system. A 2002 study by Williamson entitled “Pimp-Controlled Prostitution” focused on understanding the traditional pimp-prostitute relationship through qualitative research.
Williamson has conducted some groundbreaking research in area of human trafficking and has published over 25 articles and reports. Some of her latest work involves the creation of an 8-topic curriculum for youth at risk for sex and/or labor trafficking. Williamson also has a popular podcast called "Emancipation Nation" and an online network of anti-trafficking advocates called the "Emancipation Nation Network".
The Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference is the oldest academic conference on human trafficking in the nation. Started in 2004, the annual conference has hosted representatives from 42 states and 30 countries. An average of 1,400 people attended the conference, 400 of which are high school students. The two days conference hosts an average of 90 presenters. http://www.traffickingconference.com
Dr. Williamson also hosts the Emancipation Nation Podcast available wherever you get your podcasts.
She founded and hosts the Emancipation Nation Network, a free online network of anti-trafficking advocates from around the world. The Network offers a daily updated host of information on anti-trafficking focused grants, jobs, free webinars, and the latest research. Members have access to message each other and collaborate.
In 2014, Williamson was named the 26th most influential social worker alive today by the Social Work Degree Guide, based on merit, scholastic study, and political activism. In 2009, Williamson was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame for her work on sex trafficking and prostitution issues throughout Ohio. In 2009, Second Chance, founded by Williamson, received the FBI Director's Community Leadership Award for its efforts.