Tuesday, March 04, 2008

UN Vienna Forum Part 7: Quantifying Human Trafficking Pt. II

The second half of the session included four speakers, the first of whom conducted his research as a Fulbright Scholar in Cambodia. This was one of the most fascinating presentations as
Dr. Thomas Steinfatt of Miami University explained his research on sex workers in Cambodia. His task was to actually interview traffickers, albiet without their knowledge that he was conducting research on this topic. The method was informed by the deputy director of UNAIDS.

Here is some of the basic information about the method:

  • Target population: Women and children brought to Phnom Penh for the purpose of sex trafficking
  • Follow the money! Trafficking has to be treated as an industry, and therefore it must survive by bringing in customers,
  • So look for advertisements, especially through taxi drivers
  • He also cross-validated his work with studies done by IJM, Cambodia's National Assembly, and by NCHADS
These were sources of data to keep organized:

1) The first was the location of venues. These venues were mapped through a GPS unit via taxi route. Dr. Steinfatt used taxi drivers to locate places to buy sex as they are often the people who brothels advertise through. He would exhaust the resources of three or four different drivers over the course of a few days and use the GPS system to keep track of the location. He would then go to the tourism bureau and ask for the locations of entertainment clubs, and go to each of
those to designate overlap and potential brothels. After all of this information was collected, he broke it down to small-scale sampling within a certain block space.

2) The second source was the communication with brothels. First, he would survey one venue, and observe customer demographic. Then, based on these observations, either Dr. Steinfatt may go or use the taxi driver to go in and ask questions with the false premise that he is a customer looking to throw a party. The questions would be, for example, how many women are available, whether they are allowed to leave the venue to go somewhere else, type (ethnicity) of women, etc. This would give him an idea of which spots were potential sites with trafficking victims.

About two weeks later, he would conduct a very similar survey at same venue but with additional questions such as the willingness of the girls to be there (in this case presented as a customer's fantasy, but really to get a better idea of which brothels may have trafficked victims)

Dr. Steinfatt relied on some assumptions in order to complete this research:
  • Sex trafficking is for profit, and most women and children trafficked for sexual purposes will be found in large urban areas with a replenishing or transient male population.
  • There are not many, if any, indirect venues or "hidden brothels" because the drive for profit means a need to advertise (although this will normally be less obvious, i.e. through taxi drivers).
  • This method will not find cases of people locked in basements or backrooms, although it is assumed these trafficking operations cannot sustain themselves as they will never earn money off of their "investment" in the victim.
If you want to learn more about Dr. Steinfatt's work, it is possible to contact him through the page linked to his name above or he has a book published on sex workers in Thailand here.

Incomplete Numbers
The next speaker was Gergana Danailova-Trainor of the U.S. Government Accountability Office on conducting impact evaluation of counter-trafficking programs. Her presentation started from the premise that a lack of baseline information means that evaluations are difficult- meaning the lack of statistics on the size of the problem is holding back efforts to build effective programs. This is because of, in her view, the hidden nature of trafficking and the lack of empirical root causes. In essence, the results are flawed from the very beginning.

Some solutions include tracking trafficking victims over time, including their demographic information, trafficking situation, mode of intervention, the results of reintegration assistance,
and longitudinal data such as education, employment, health, and income.

Ms. Danailova-Trainor suggested taking lessons from other elusive or hard-to-track populations such as the homeless or irregular migrants. These lessons include using focus groups and key informants to identify hot spots for trials and employing decoys or snowball sampling.

Lastly, she stated that using existing global and national databases could shed light on the profile of victims and root causes. Then use this information to create an index of trafficking severity where risk factors could be modeled and influence estimated numbers. This could also help with evaluating intervention success based on the status of the trafficking severity index.

Click here for the GAO's June 2007 report: Human Trafficking: Monitoring and Evaluation of International Projects Are Limited, but Experts Suggest Improvements.

ILO headquarters in Geneva

Improving Tracking Methods

The next speaker was also quite interesting as I had heard of some of the work she was referring to on a working trip to Moldova in October. Michelle De Cock of the International Labor Organization spoke about new tools for data collection on forced labour and human trafficking.

These tools have taken various forms:
  • A national survey to estimate prevalence
  • An establishment survey in one sector of activity
  • Qualitative research on trafficking/forced labor
  • A database
For the database, the indicators must be
  • Consistent
  • In line with international conventions, national laws, between various organizations, and between countries
  • Operational and simple
Ms. De Cock also explained the undertakings of the project by the Criminal Justice subgroup of European Commission to set indicators. It has been implemented by the ILO under a steering committee. There are a certain number of experts involved from the police, judicial branches, government, NGOs, trade unions, employers, inspectors, and academics with the task of reaching a consensus on indicators of labor and sex trafficking among both adults and children. One of the conditions, as used in the Delphi method, is to ensure that these experts do not know each other. Their results are expected this year.

The group follows a 3 step process:
  1. Open up the question on the structured lists of indicators,
  2. Each member will rate the indicators, and upon full collection of these ratings, the indicators will be recombined,
  3. Lastly, rate the new combinations
As far as the ILO's work in gathering statistical data, surveys have been implemented in coordination with national governments. They are national household surveys with specific sampling frames. Currently, there are surveys being done in Zambia, Niger, Georgia, and Moldova. Ms. De Cock singled out Moldova for further explanation as it is the most advanced survey thus far.


The objective in Moldova (with the help of Elena Vatcaran, National Bureau of Statistics) is to estimate the number of labor migrants and working condition of these migrants. The process began with a meeting with the National Committee (made up of NGOs and police) to define national indicators followed by technical meetings between ILO experts and the National Bureau of Statistics to design the questionnaire.

It is a full scale LFS that is meant to reach 12,000 households.

The questionnaire bears the following characteristics:
  • Normal LFS
  • One question is used as a filter on absent or returned migrants
  • Three types of responses:
    • 1) There are neither absent or returned migrants in the household
    • 2) There is a member of the household that is abroad already
    • 3) There is a member of the household that has returned from migrating abroad to work
By establishing how many households there are with labor migrants abroad it: provides numbers on number of labor migrants on larger scale; identifies families at risk; gives some sense of the importance of remittances (this is least reliable information as families may lie); and it creates better information and awareness of the situation of migrants.
By finding households with returned migrants it creates better information on: the recruiting process; migrant working conditions; migrant living conditions; the extent of the existence of forced labor; and exposes the means of coercion.

A pilot test was run in Oct. 2007 in 4,000 households in Moldova and they identified a significant number of households with absent or returned migrants. This test pilot also exposed the fact that a lot of work still needs to be done in destination countries.

Cairo, Egypt

The Cairo Expert Group Meeting

The final speaker I witnessed before I had to leave to return to Kyiv was Frank Laczko, the Head of Research and Publications at IOM Geneva. His presentation was on developing new approaches to the study of human trafficking, specifically the Cairo Expert Group Meeting.

He stated the key to this meeting was to avoid the duplication of effort. As a part of the UNGIFT Research Initiative Objective, a meeting was held in Cairo from Jan 11-12, 2008 between 20 experts from across different regions and disciplines. Their objectives included assessing the current state of trafficking research and identifying gaps; proposing policy oriented research; and recommending tools and guidelines.

The key issues identified for context of research include:
  • Conceptual clarity
  • Capacity building for governments, NGOs, and researchers
  • The complications of the politics of research and suspicion of governments
  • Research ethics need to be made clear; some countries have guidelines, others don't
  • Donors and funding for research interfering with the work
  • Coordination of research by agencies
Identified Research Gaps
  • Linking development with trafficking
From this a new agenda for research can be made that encompasses the following aspects:
  • Donor and Funding awareness-raising
  • Broadening the base for funding
  • Linking the research to evaluation
  • Employing closer coordination of research agendas to avoid evidence misinterpretation and duplication
  • Promote studies on neglected themes and regions
  • Enhance quality
  • Build research capacities
These are the identified areas for action:
  • International Programme to Promote Innovative Research on Trafficking
  • Creation of an advisory network of experts on human trafficking research to provide guidelines, share best practices, review proposals and papers, provide training workshops, and produce a working paper series to share information about innovative research in an understandable way
  • Enhance dissemination and interpretation of data
  • Utilize the UN competition to facilitate new research
  • Work more with policy makers to present research in a way that can translate into policy
  • More major agency coordination is needed
Final Thoughts
It was a busy three days in Vienna, and there were many more topics covered than what is included in these seven posts. The Vienna Forum is evidence that trafficking is being taken seriously by the international community and that, although there is much work to be done, new forms of collaboration and innovative programs to combat this terrible crime are underway

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