We get many questions from supporters regarding our research methodology. Specifically, who we are meeting with and what it is exactly that we are looking to highlight through our research of anti-human trafficking efforts throughout the U.S.
Challenges We Have Identified
We recognize human trafficking to be an incredibly complex humanitarian crisis. The complexity is rooted in various factors, including, but not limited to: vulnerabilities of victims that facilitate the trafficking of human beings in our society; the psychological trauma victims endure – and therefore the challenges in the field of prosecuting a trafficker; the un-equal attention given to issues of sex trafficking vs. labor trafficking; as well as the saturation of programs in the field combating human trafficking – not all are appropriately qualified to work with victims. Most relevant to our work are the challenges of organization and agency collaboration (within states and among states), while working towards developing the most practical and productive practices.
We did not begin our research with any specific question – knowing that our work in the field would evolve with the information we would collect. We continue to read as many journals and articles as possible, speak with an array of anti-human trafficking agencies and organizations, as well as attend conferences in order to connect with others in the field and see what issues have already been approached, what is missing in the field, and how to be sure our research is helpful to those already working in the field.
Prior to arriving in each state we do extensive research into anti-trafficking initiatives in the area – efforts combating human trafficking, as well as agencies and organizations that are likely to come across cases of human trafficking (e.g. domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, child advocacy centers, sexual assault agencies and youth focused agencies such as the Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Youth Services, Department of Children and Families, as well as immigrant and refugee service agencies). It takes time and patience, but we have had good results from this approach, especially because there are so few organizations out there focused strictly on human trafficking.
We then contact these agencies and ask to set-up a meeting. In the southern states we had wonderful responses from both governmental and non-governmental agencies; however, as we move north the responses we receive are fewer- I might suggest that this is related to the culture of each community. In the Midwest and southern states, individuals are welcoming and incredibly helpful to independent researchers interested in this field of work – particularly because there are so few. As we move north it seems that organizations, more specifically attorneys and federal agencies, are much more protective and cautious about whom they talk to. Despite these obstacles, we continue to build a strong network of supporters and receive referrals from organizations we meet with. This is the best way we have been able to connect with otherwise unresponsive agencies.
We ask our interviewees to sign a consent form that explains to them our research goals and in what ways we will be using the information they provide us. Although we are not graduate students, and therefore do not have the requirements of an Institutional Review Board to adhere to, we are still careful to make sure our research will not be disregarded simply because we did not go through the process of interviews in an appropriate manner.
In each interview, we ask various questions that we have geared for that particular field. For example, we will not ask a prosecutor the same questions we would ask a law enforcement officer, a government agent, or a shelter director – each of their roles is drastically different when it comes to combating the issues, working to recover and rehabilitate victims, as well as prosecuting traffickers. To be sure, we do not limit the information we receive in the interview; we ask questions encompassing prevention methods, training techniques and resources, specialized projects for outreach and recovering victims, prosecution methods, funding sources, as well as collaborative challenges.
While Mona works from home in Indiana for the next week, I will be attending a conference at Yale Law School in Connecticut, titled Trade of Innocents: A Global Perspective on Human Trafficking. The conference is April 12th and 13th. “The symposium will feature a series of panels about the efforts of law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations to detect, investigate and prosecute domestic and international human trafficking as well as a panel about the making of the film with the producers and director for Trade of Innocents.” This should be a great networking opportunity for our work and I look forward to sharing lessons, topics and resources from the conference.
Separate from the meeting, I will also have the opportunity to speak with a woman from Connecticut who advocates for sex workers rights. I was put in contact with this woman by a good friend, Matt Lehmann, who is working in South Korea researching “The Impact of Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law on Sex Workers’ Human Rights”. This is a topic that also comes up in the field within the U.S., so we are always open to hearing from individuals with opinions that may differ in ways from the anti-trafficking advocates we are often speaking with. It should be a very productive week before I head to New York City on April 17th and meet-up with Mona once again and continue on the road.
Location: Boston, MA
Written By: Ali