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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons > Releases and Remarks > Fact Sheets > 2005
Fact Sheet
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Washington, DC
November 14, 2005

Seminar on Trafficking in Persons Research

On November 14, 2005, experts in human trafficking research from several international organizations, NGOs, universities, and government agencies gathered at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for a one-day seminar on human trafficking research. Some of the highlights and key themes of the seminar were as follows:

Existing Data and Methodologies: In recent years, increased attention on the issue of human trafficking has led to a corresponding growth in the number of publications and research studies on trafficking. Several organizations represented at the seminar have undertaken large-scale research projects on human trafficking:

  • The International Organization for Migration has developed a Counter Trafficking Module Database, which includes information on almost 7,000 trafficking victims—from 50 source countries and 78 destination countries—registered since November 1999.
  • The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime will soon publish its Global Report on Human Trafficking Patterns, which analyzes data from government statistics, reports of international organizations and NGOs, academic research, and media reports on over 5,000 episodes of trafficking. After two years of data collection and six months of data editing, the report contains detailed information on 161 countries, including information on persons trafficked from, through, to, and within a country; trafficking routes; trafficking for sexual exploitation versus forced labor; and the nationality, sex, and age of victims and offenders.
  • The International Labor Organization recently published an international report on forced labor ("A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour"), in which it used double sampling1 open source data to estimate the total number of trafficking victims worldwide between 1995 and 2004. The report also estimates the annual profits made by traffickers worldwide.
  • The consulting firm Calibur Associates is conducting a study that estimates the probability, based on country- and age-specific risk factors, of individuals being trafficked from source countries in Latin America, through transit countries, and up to the United States border.

Methodological challenges: Seminar participants discussed some of the challenges in current trafficking research methodologies. Many large-scope research projects rely on open source data (i.e., data generally available to the public in government, NGO, academic, or media reports), which can be problematic due to the scarcity or unreliability of sources in some countries. Also, different sources use different definitions of trafficking, which make it difficult to compare data across sources. Finally, developed countries tend to be overrepresented because they publish more on the subject of trafficking, and certain forms of trafficking—labor trafficking, trafficking in men, internal trafficking, or trafficking between developing countries—tend to be underrepresented because they receive less attention than others.

Data gaps: Seminar participants also identified several areas where trafficking data are particularly lacking:

  • Comparatively little research has been done on the effectiveness of government-funded anti-trafficking programs, so little is known about what works and what does not.
  • Comparatively little research has been done on trafficking in Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.
  • Research has tended to focus on victims and on the factors contributing to their supply in source countries, with little known about the traffickers themselves, the demand for victims in destination countries, or the anti-trafficking efforts of law enforcement.
  • Research on victims has tended to focus on women and children, with little known about male victims of trafficking.
  • Research on the health consequences of human trafficking has focused on the spread of HIV and AIDS, with little known about other health problems associated with human trafficking.
  • Little is known about the structure or money flows of the criminal enterprises that facilitate human trafficking.
  • Many countries lack the capacity to conduct research or collect data on human trafficking, and there is a need for projects that build research and data-collection capacity in those countries.

Measuring Success: Finally, participants wrestled with the question of how to measure the success of global, regional, and local anti-trafficking efforts. One method for measuring success assumes that the causes of trafficking are well-understood, and then seeks to measure a variety of indicators (such as the existence of a legal system that functions on behalf of trafficking victims, or the existence of economic opportunities for potential trafficking victims) to determine whether those causes are being addressed. However, measuring anti-trafficking success remains one of the most problematic and least well-developed areas of human trafficking research.

1 Double sampling, or "capture–recapture," is a statistical method for estimating elusive populations in which researchers draw two independent, random samples from the target population and then estimate the size of the population based on the overlap between the two samples.

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