Human Trafficking Estimates: Local is Best, Part 2

StatisticsIn the past weeks we have examined how trafficking estimates can be flawed, and the challenges in obtaining local or regional estimates. With this understanding, let’s focus on exactly what we need to know (and share) to answer this question: How much human trafficking is occurring in our community?

But before we begin, two caveats: First, laws (along with agency protocols) dictate what type of information can be shared with other persons and agencies. This is commonly referred to as confidentiality. Confidentiality laws also protect certain persons — for example, case managers and attorneys — from disclosing certain information in court. Do not violate confidentiality; when in doubt, do not share information. But, as we will see, we should be willing to share generalized information that helps us understand the prevalence of trafficking.

Second, we must be willing to accept that the silos of data regarding human trafficking victims and incidents are difficult to keep nice and neat; more often, we must be willing to accept (and explain to others) the complexity of trafficking. We are not professional researchers; we are just trying to collect information from a variety of anti-trafficking stakeholders from our community.

What information really needs to be shared? We do not need names, specific age, or other personally identifiable information. We need basic information regarding victims: gender; age range (5 year segments are good); type of exploitation (labor or commercial sex) and perhaps a category, such as domestic servitude, agricultural labor, forced prostitution, etc., and; nationality. If partners are willing, it is also useful to know what country the victim is from. That’s it. No additional information is needed. A specific victim cannot be identified based on this information. When we realize this is all the information we need to share–not names or other identifying information–sharing becomes much easier.

When collecting this information, steps should be taken to avoid a victim being reported more than once. For example, if a victim has received assistance from more than one service provider, the providers should ensure the victim is not reported more than once. This can be avoided in a couple of ways: The victim will usually have one case manager, so they can help avoid duplicate reporting; in addition, case managers and agency attorneys usually are protected by confidentiality laws, so the case manager and attorney can share details in private to avoid duplicate reporting.

Information regarding traffickers who have been arrested is usually public information, but for basic information to be shared in public, track the same information as for victims.

What categories should we use?

1 – Potential Victims of Trafficking: This is a good term for describing those who we believe are victims, yet we lack statements or evidence to clearly classify them as victims. For example, if police conduct an operation at a brothel, locating five persons whom they believe are working against their will, but all five are too afraid to disclose their victimization, count these as five Potential Victims. From the victim services perspective, this could be an individual who sought assistance for another reason (e.g., domestic violence or sexual assault) but whom the service provider believes is also a victim of trafficking. Yes, this is a vague category based upon our observations and perspective, but count them! Just be careful to avoid over estimating the number, and never combine this estimate with others categories, below.

2 – Identified Victims of Trafficking: This is a person who has either received services as a victim of trafficking from a service provider, or who has been identified by law enforcement as a victim of trafficking. This person has been exploited via forced labor or sexual exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion. This is the number which will be most beneficial to estimating the level of trafficking in a community.

3 – Suspected Incidents of Trafficking: This category reflects instances where law enforcement examined a situation for the elements of human trafficking, but were unable to find them because they either didn’t exist, or victims chose not to cooperate. In the above example where police investigated the brothel, this could count as one Suspected Incident of Trafficking, with five Potential Victims. Again, this is far less precise than the categories below, but is shows that law enforcement is looking for trafficking!

4 – Trafficking Suspects Arrested: This number should reflect individuals who have been arrested on the specific charge of human trafficking.

5 – Trafficking-related Suspects Arrested: The most common example to illustrate this category is a pimp/trafficker who is arrested for pimping and pandering, but not for the specific charge of human trafficking. There are many reasons a law enforcement agency would arrest on pimping charges but not human trafficking, but they are too numerous to explore now.

6 – Trafficking Charges Filed: A prosecutor has filed the specific charge of human trafficking against a suspect.

7 – Trafficking-related Charges Filed: See #5; this is the prosecution equivalent.

8 – Convictions: Again, these should also be separated by specific charges of trafficking, and trafficking-related charges. Frankly, this number can be abused. A prosecutor’s office may count convictions of pimping, pandering, and assault against the trafficking victim as three convictions of “human trafficking,” when the specific trafficking charge was never filed and, obviously, only one person was convicted.

When a community of anti-trafficking stakeholders share minimal information with each other, we all begin to see the bigger picture, and the value of combined efforts. These numbers are critical for agencies seeking grant funding. Collecting these numbers illustrate that partnerships and trust already exist and, that based on these numbers, realistic performance targets can be established. Even better, those responsible for educating the public are not forced to use estimates of questionable origin.

Wouldn’t it be great to stand before an audience and say, “Based on the efforts of all our collaborative partners, we have identified and served 173 victims. They included 143 adult women, eight adult men, and 22 victims under age 18. 57% were victims of commercial sex exploitation, 43% victims of forced labor, including domestic servitude, agricultural labor, and work in local restaurants. 22% are foreign nationals, from South America, Africa, and Asia.  We have made contact with another 332 individuals whom we believe are victims but who, for a variety of reasons, we are not able to classify as victims. 32 cases have been investigated by our law enforcement partners, with over a dozen traffickers arrested. Three have been convicted on charges of human trafficking, and two suspects are awaiting trail.”

At first, the numbers will be much smaller, but don’t worry about that! Your local numbers are best! Your community will understand the challenges of data collection if you educate them about the hurdles you face. And they will support your efforts. In any case, it is always better to have your own numbers than to tell your audience, “Ah, we just don’t really know.”

Are the partners in your collaborative efforts sharing numbers so you all have a better understanding of the level of trafficking in your community? If not, why not?

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