Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Politics of Evidence, Data & Research in Anti-Trafficking Work 1/6

Since the mid-2000s, critical commentators have raised concerns about both the paucity of evidence on important aspects of human trafficking, and the difficulty of obtaining meaningful data.1 Policy formations, advocacy campaigns, concrete interventions, and popular understandings of human trafficking have all had accusations of wild claims and unfounded assumptions levelled at them. Guesstimates prevail and take on a life of their own in such a context.2 Calls for more robust evidence to prove or disprove claims about the nature, extent and location of human trafficking, the characteristics of trafficked persons, and the continued investment in particular types of responses have abounded. This has occurred in light of the growing potential for unsubstantiated claims to fulfil the place of rigorous evidence to inform anti-trafficking work.

Wstion of ‘evidence’ in anti-trafficking work. But before exploring these themes in further detail here we should first attempt to achieve some degree of clarity about the terms we are employing in this special issue. In particular, it is important to distinguish between evidence, data, and research; particularly so as many in the anti-trafficking community tend to use these terms interchangeably. Whilst research is a broad term encompassing the activities that generate knowledge and extend understanding through active investigation, data is normally understood as the results of such investigation. Although it has quantitative overtones (discussed in further detail below in relation to human trafficking), data should certainly not only—or even primarily—be understood as just statistics. Rather, it encompasses a wide range of information derived from an equally expansive bevy of methods, including participatory activities, life stories, interviews, and ethnography. Evidence, on the other hand, is not simply another word for data, but implies the ability to give substance to belief and therefore the ability to (dis)prove a proposition or suggestion. The notion of ‘truth’ then is important when considering evidence. But, as Jo Doezema rightly pointed out over fifteen years ago, anti-trafficking can become a dangerous ideology which involves ‘the distortion of truth for political ends.’3 Evidence, in other words, should never be thought of as politically neutral and the recognition that truths are social, political and moral constructs has a long pedigree in the social sciences. Scholars of human trafficking are increasingly recognising this as relevant to understanding the continued human rights abuses, inequalities and exclusions, and repressive policies often carried out in the name of anti-trafficking.4

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