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?

Human Trafficking Estimates: Local is Best, Part 1

Over the past several weeks we’ve examined the problem with most estimates related toStatistics human trafficking: They are very broad, hard to obtain, and often the data supporting them is unreliable. So what estimates should anti-trafficking organizations use?

The very best data reflects the work actually performed. Victim services providers (VSPs) who render assistance know exactly how many victims they have served. Law enforcement agencies know exactly how many cases of trafficking they have investigated, number of cases prosecuted, and number of offenders convicted. This sounds simple, but the reality is more complex.

For example: A VSP may identify an individual as a victim of both trafficking and domestic violence. But if the VSP has a policy of “client defined services,” (which means, if the client [victim] chooses only to receive services as a victim of domestic violence, that is the only victimization data the VSP collects) the human trafficking victimization may never be reported.

Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have their own challenges with data. For instance, prosecutors may choose (for a variety of reasons) to charge an offender with criminal statutes that do not include human trafficking, even though the case is exactly that. In commercial sex exploitation cases, prosecutors may choose to charge pimping and pandering, for example. Yet, in the perspective of the prosecutor this is a case of human trafficking. They may even refer to this case in public as a human trafficking conviction. This explains the discrepancy when the number of convictions reported by law enforcement and prosecutors don’t always match the data from a state’s database of criminal convictions. Those who understand the dynamics of trafficking will call the case human trafficking, but if the conviction was actually for pimping, only the pimping conviction will appear in the database.

So how is a community, or a region, supposed to collect this data in an attempt to derive meaningful numbers of victim identified or served, along with cases investigated, prosecuted, and offenders convicted?

First, and critically, there needs to be a spirit of collaboration and a willingness to share the data with other stakeholders! This can be a huge stumbling block for some individuals and agencies due to the issues described above (or others); a hesitancy to report data based upon experience or observation instead of empirical data (an example would be police identifying a brothel where they know the women are coerced, but none of the women give statements to the fact – therefore the case will not move forward as a trafficking case), or; on grounds of confidentiality – the laws that state who information can be shared with, and what types of information can be shared.

While these problems may seem insurmountable, they have been overcome through effective collaboration. And while it may be impossible to say how many trafficking victims exist within the United States, many effective collaborative teams can give very good numbers reflecting the work they have done within their community or region.

In the next post we will examine some ways to categorize data, and what information truly needs to be shared, when the goal is for a community to be able to answer this simple question: How much trafficking is occurring in our community?

Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on this topic?

(The discussion of estimates related to human trafficking, the challenges of gathering accurate numbers, and how many of these estimates are incorrectly used is addressed in The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking & modern slavery.)

Baseball and Human Trafficking: Unlikely Lessons on Slavery From America’s Favorite Pastime

baseballThe baseball season is upon us once again. Fans are pouring into stadiums to cheer their favorite teams, while sports writers wax poetic on the rejuvenating powers of a new season, freshly mown baseball fields, and the simple joys of a day at the ball park. Every spring, baseball offers us the hope of fresh starts, clean air and sunshine, and an unapologetic opportunity to enjoy hotdogs and beer.

Few fans would ever suspect a connection between baseball and the dark world of human trafficking; where victims are exploited through their labor, or commercial sex acts, by means of force, fraud, or coercion. Fewer still would suspect we can learn two valuable lessons about the complexities of human trafficking when viewed through the prism of America’s favorite pastime.

The first lesson we can learn is that anyone—even professional athletes—can be exploited when a trafficker instills fear in their victim.

Last February, certified Major League Baseball Player Association agent Bart Hernandez was indicted in federal court on charges of human trafficking and conspiracy, stemming from his alleged involvement in bringing Cuban baseball players into the United States who, in some cases, have received lucrative contracts. The indictment focuses on the case of Seattle Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin. Hernandez allegedly conspired with others to hold Martin and his family hostage while he negotiated Martin’s first MLB contract. Hernandez may have also coerced Martin into signing a contract which paid Hernandez a much higher agent fee than is usual. If true, Hernandez profited through Martin’s labor (playing baseball), after using force, fraud, or coercion to gain Martin’s compliance. This is human trafficking. If Hernandez is found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in prison. Lest we think this is an isolated case, associates of Hernandez are already serving time in federal prison for similar offenses.

Though trafficking cases involving professional athletes are rare, it illustrates an important concept in combating modern slavery: Human trafficking is limited only by the imagination of the trafficker, and the trafficker’s coercive skill in manipulating their victim through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. If true, Hernandez invented a ploy to exploit a talented baseball player, and by separating Martin from his family and then holding them hostage forced Martin into signing a contract favorable to Hernandez. Martin, a highly skilled athlete, may have been victimized while on the path to playing in the major league—just as other talented and smart people have fallen victim to traffickers.

The second connection we can make between baseball and human trafficking is examining the level of performance that equates with success. Major league players who can maintain a .250 batting average (getting a hit 1 in 4 times at bat) will likely have a successful career, given they possess the requisite defensive skills. A batter with a .300 average will be among a team’s better hitters. “Success,” in the case of a batter, equates with failing far more often than actually achieving their goal of getting a hit. This success rate is quite similar to those who assist victims of human trafficking, especially those who have been victimized through commercial sexual exploitation.

It is an unfortunate reality that many victims of trafficking do not immediately embrace those who offer to help them, whether law enforcement or victim services providers. Victims are often emotionally bound to their exploiter through the same fear that was used to exploit them, through a misconceived notion of “love” for their exploiter, or because the victim lacks trust in the social and legal systems that have failed to protect them in the past.

Ask a police officer or victim advocate experienced in working with sex trafficking victims how often they are successful in removing a trafficking victim from “the life” of forced commercial sex, and they will likely answer 1 in 4. Professionals skilled in working with sex trafficking victims achieve success the same percentage of time as batters. Sadly, it is not uncommon for the same victim to have multiple contacts with professionals who are ready, willing, and able to help, before they accept it. Tragically, some never do.

But does this stop the police officer, victim advocate, or community activist from continually going to bat for victims of modern slavery? Of course not. Dedicated professionals—just like the athletes who play on emerald fields under a spring sun—accept that success comes in a minority of their attempts. Abolitionists who oppose trafficking in all its form are not defeated by success rates of 1 in 4; they rejoice in it. And like the baseball player who “hits for average,” they take pride in the singles and doubles they hit, yet rarely experience the thrill of a home run.

The response to human trafficking, like baseball, is much more complex than it appears. The trafficking victim advocate, and batter, employs a nuanced approach to increase their chances of success, if only to a small degree. But they are both professionals in their tasks—in responding to human trafficking, and baseball—and they are the heart of the game. Their tenacity, not their high average, is their star quality. They are diligent, consistent, and dependable. And they take pride in their success, even if only a quarter of the time they step to the plate. We applaud them both!

Human Trafficking Statistics: What Numbers to Use

In my last blog post I discussed why anti-trafficking organizations must be careful using and promoting statistics: most of them are flawed. The post received a lot of positive feedback, illustrating that many of us in the anti-trafficking community are concerned with this issue. Using dated or poorly researched estimates Pie Chartcan hurt an organization’s credibility. And while I believe we should place more focus what we are doing (more on that later), there are times when we need solid estimates to share for awareness, educational, or fundraising purposes. So what estimates can we use?

Two estimates I routinely use come from the International Labour Organization. The first is the ILO 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour, in which the ILO estimates the worldwide number of trafficking victims at 20.9 million people.

The second is the ILO’s 2014 report, Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour. Here we find some interesting estimates:
Estimated worldwide profits from trafficking: $150 Billion
68% of victims are exploited via forced labor
22% of victims are exploited via forced sexual exploitation
(10% of victims are state-imposed forced labor)
Of particular interest, we see that while the vast majority of victims are exploited via forced labor, 2/3 of the profits (estimated at $99B) come from forced sexual exploitation.

I use these estimates because the ILO is an agency of the United Nations, their reports include their methodology, and they will update the reports in the years to come. (I also make sure that I list the ILO reports as the source when I offer these estimates. Estimates or statistics promoted without the source listed is big red flag.) I realize there are other estimates, including some from very knowledgeable professionals. But if you want to give global estimates, you cannot do much better than these. And, in any case, these are estimates: we really don’t know the exact numbers.

When addressing victims and incidents within the United States we can only, at best, piece together disparate sources of data, and some of these sources are seriously flawed. Better to say we just don’t know.

What are the best estimates to deliver to your audience, especially if you are a local anti-trafficking organization or task force? You should be promoting statistics and data from your own work!

For example, if you are serving victims, you should be sharing the number of victims you have assisted, their forms of exploitation (i.e. sex or labor trafficking), and some basic demographic information, such as their gender, nationality, and age range. (None of these elements violate confidentiality protocols.) Law enforcement statistics can include: the number of incidents suspected (an incident can be initially suspected to be trafficking but then proves to be something else, but capturing this number illustrates law enforcement are looking for trafficking cases); the number of incidents investigated as actual trafficking; cases brought before a prosecutor; cases in which charges were brought against suspected traffickers, and; convictions. Obtaining this data is not that difficult: many organizations and task forces have this information readily available.

But too often, organizations and agencies don’t take the time to gather this data. They pass it off as too much work to do; a complex process involving many reporting agencies; or push back on data sharing as a breach of confidentiality. Sometimes I’ve been told, “We don’t have many victims or cases and we will look like we are not accomplishing anything.” Well, every service agency had to have their first client (i.e. victim). Every law enforcement agency had to have their first human trafficking case. Don’t hide from the complexity and difficulty of fighting modern slavery, inform others about the hard work you are doing!

Audiences want to know about your organization’s accomplishments and challenges. And if they are donating, they should be given an honest picture of your work. Also, when you educate others about the difficult work you are doing, you are highlighting the commitment and passion of those doing the work; your staff! Even more important than sharing your stats is sharing stories of commitment by your organization. And share success stories of the survivors you have served.

Don’t focus on big numbers, focus on work you do!

In my next post I’ll explore how to conduct a basic community assessment to gather data on trafficking and response efforts. If you are interested in more information on the problems with many of the commonly-quoted statistics, they are addressed in The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking & modern slavery.

Doing THIS Hurts Your Anti-Trafficking Credibility!

HTlogo_Z-SJPDThe biggest mistake an anti-trafficking organization can make is quoting – or promoting – incorrect statistics. And using incorrect, or unfounded, stats is all-to-common within the anti-trafficking community. Why does this occur and, more importantly, why does it matter?

First, a disclaimer: I have used bad information myself in the past. In the early days of the San Jose Police Human Trafficking Task Force (which I managed from 2006-2011) few estimates existed and we used what was available. I have also fallen into the trap of repeating what others (many of whom I respected) were saying without verifying the quality of the data or source, or questioning the context in which the statistics were offered. But with time, I’ve become much more critical about the statistics or studies I quote. Even our use of language leads to misrepresenting information.

For example, have you heard someone say (or post online), “The average age of entry into forced prostitution is 12-14 years of age.” But what does the word “average” imply? Using age 13 as the mid-point of 12-14, “average” implies that for every victim who is forced into prostitution at age 16, there must be a victim who was forced into prostitution at age 10. For every victim age 17, there must be a victim nine years of age. When we stop and examine the implication of using the word “average,” we begin to see a potential problem with this quote. While no definitive studies exist to confirm the exact average age of entry into forced prostitution, based upon my conversations with many anti-trafficking professionals across the country, a more reliable statement would be that many victims are forced into the sex trade as young as 12-14 years of age. (Of course, there are always the exceptions of very young victims, but the point is we must be concerned with reliable information.)

A decade ago it was common to see this statement: “14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year.” This stat – based on a vague analysis – was heavily used by United States government agencies. Though it was dropped from use several years ago it can still be found in use, often repeated by persons or organizations who have not taken the time to verify the source or think about its implication.

And why are we so dependent upon statistics to promote our anti-trafficking work, pass legislation, or raise funds? Agencies who support victims of domestic violence or sexual assault rarely offer big number statistics to justify their existence or their work. But, somehow, early in the evolution of the response to modern slavery statistics became part and parcel with justifying our response to slavery. This needs to change.

Why is this topic important? If you have not noticed, in the past few years the media has begun to question the validity of such statistics. Some have been bold enough to claim human trafficking is far less a problem than those of us within the anti-trafficking community believe. So we are being challenged to be more responsible with our claims.

At the organizational level, we risk losing credibility with our audiences, community, and financial supporters (or potential supporters) when we offer stats that have little to no merit behind them. Would you support an organization if you realized they were putting out incorrect information? If an organization can’t be relied upon to use current and correct information on a topic, would you trust them with our donor dollars? Simple things enhance – or detract – from our credibility!

This may seem like a minor issue, but it isn’t. We need to maintain the highest levels of integrity and credibility in our response to human trafficking. What we say in public, and post online, reflects upon the entire anti-trafficking community. (This is one reason why the use – and misuse – of statistics is closely examined in my book The Essential Abolitionist.)

For the record, the U.S. government now acknowledges the lack of solid data regarding trafficking; the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States (2012), a joint effort of the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Homeland Security, includes no estimate of the number of victims within the United States! Instead, it openly recognizes the difficulty in measuring the magnitude of trafficking and calls for more definitive study. Take a close look at the statistics (and the sources) you use in your presentations or post online.

So, what data should we use? I’ll examine that topic in my next post. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on this topic?

 

The Essential Abolitionist: The story behind the book

IMG_1844With The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking & modern slavery now on sale, I’m often asked about the writing and publishing process. Most often, I’m asked, where did I get the idea to write the book? This is the short story behind the book.

Since 2006 I’ve been involved in the response to human trafficking when I was tasked with managing the San Jose Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Force. We were part of a nationwide program of task forces funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. When the program was launched in late-2005 it was the first effort to create and sustain multi-sector task forces involving local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who provide services to victims of human trafficking. Being a brand new effort, each of the task forces was left to design their own plan to achieve the program’s four goals: Identify and rescue victims of trafficking; prosecute offenders; train local law enforcement, and; raise public awareness.

Our task force launched an aggressive campaign of educating the public (mostly by speaking at public events), and creating training programs for law enforcement and victim services providers. So from the start we were being asked lots of questions about human trafficking and how best to respond.

For me, this led to more and more opportunities to speak, train, and advise, usually with partners from other anti-trafficking sectors. What I began to realize over time was that people were usually asking the same questions, regardless if they were the general public, students, community activists, or even professionals with a role in the response to human trafficking.

About two years ago the idea came to me that the most-often asked questions could be condensed into a book, written in a style any reader would find engaging and valuable. What would set this book apart from many of the other excellent books focusing on human trafficking would be my experience putting this knowledge to work, and my experience helping other organizations enhance their response efforts. The book would focus on real-world challenges faced every day by those actively responding to modern slavery. After drafting an initial list of about 100 questions, I asked several colleagues their opinion of the book’s concept and the draft questions. I received enthusiastic feedback about the potential value of the concept, and most of my colleagues told me that they were routinely asked the same questions!

HOW TO MAKE THE BOOK EVEN BETTER?

There is one indisputable fact when it comes to fighting human trafficking: No single sector, no single organization, and certainly no single individual can do the work alone. Effective collaboration is critical. (Collaboration is also one of the greatest challenges faced in the response to human trafficking.)

So, again, I reached out to colleagues from across the country, each with expertise in their own area of responding to human trafficking. I will always be grateful that every contributor I invited to join me on the project quickly agreed. How much better is the book than if I had written it alone? It is immensely better! The contributors come from almost every sector involved in the response to trafficking. And though some of their topics seem focused on a particular sector, they crafted their contributions in such a way that every reader can gain knowledge, and a better understanding of the challenges faced by all. You can read the biographies of the contributors here.

The writing and editing process reduced the original list of 100 questions to 78; each a topic of value to anyone interested or involved in the response to human trafficking. The questions address the essential knowledge we should all possess.

So now you know the story behind the book!

Let me know what questions you have about the book, the writing process, or human trafficking in general. I’ll try to answer them in the comments or in a future blog post!

John

Are You an Abolitionist?

What does it mean to be an abolitionist? Are you comfortable describing yourself as an abolitionist? In yet another example of the complexity one can find in the anti-human IMG_0531atrafficking community, this word is troublesome for many, well, abolitionists.

The use of the word “abolitionist” is alarming to some who see the word as either implying a religious connotation to their stance against slavery, or they link the word with an entirely different subject; the abolition of prostitution. While writing my book The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking and modern slavery, I have been questioned about my use of the word, and in the past have met many individuals who–thought deeply committed in the fight against slavery–prefer to avoid being labeled an abolitionist.

A search of several dictionaries repeatedly offer the same definitions of “abolitionist:” someone who is opposed to a law or practice, or someone who opposes (or opposed) slavery.

While the first definition can be applied to someone supporting the abolition of prostitution, this linkage doesn’t appear in several dictionaries I examined. Neither does a link between religion and abolition appear. So what is the source of this confusion?

During the American debate on slavery in the decades leading to the Civil War, many abolitionists used Christian values and Bible verses to support their stance. At the same time, there were self-described abolitionists who based their arguments against slavery on constitutional grounds, or moral grounds without invoking religious beliefs. Both secular and spiritual abolitionists fought to end slavery then, just as both sectors do so today.

The linking of the word “abolitionist” to the abolition of prostitution appears mostly in academic circles, where a mutual understanding among those discussing the topic exists. A web search of these words together will lead to articles on this subject. Coincidentally, those who have asked me if my use of the word implies a stance on prostitution have always come from the academic sector. This is a narrow use of the term, and one not usually recognized by the pubic.

In my book I address the question, What is a “modern-day abolitionist”? Today’s forms of slavery–and its victims–differ from the slavery of the antebellum United States. Today we address two broad forms of trafficking (labor and commercial sex), while also recognizing the many types of victims; women, children, men, persons of color, domestic and foreign national, native populations, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ, and others.

Today’s abolitionist is opposed to all forms of slavery, and seeks justice for all victims. It is actually pretty simple: If you oppose slavery, the best term to describe yourself is “abolitionist.” Be comfortable using the word, because it is a good–and the proper–word. I’m an abolitionist, are you?