Thursday, October 12, 2017

This Special Issue: Evidence and effectiveness 5/6

So far in this Editorial I have focused on some of the key issues concerning the questions to which evidence is brought to bear and how this ‘disciplines’ research in both methodology, use, interpretation and presentation of data. More recently there have been calls not only for evidence to inform policy and anti-trafficking interventions—termed ‘evidence-based policy’—but often vocal demands for evidence of the normative basis on which anti-trafficking practices rest and, relatedly, the effectiveness of such practices. In contrast to well-accepted treatise on aid effectiveness more generally, many in the anti-trafficking community, including the contributors to this special issue, have lamented the paucity of evidence to inform policy directives and concrete interventions and the lack of monitoring and evaluation of interventions. Some of the contributors ask, for example, why governments privilege criminal justice responses to human trafficking and devote disproportionately large resources to it, when there is little evidence to suggest they are effective in countering human trafficking or, indeed, providing victims with justice and restitution. Logistical issues (such as access) are important to consider, but political interests are equally important.

Three of the contributions in this issue focus on the evidence that is used—or rejected—to formulate national anti-trafficking policies. They demonstrate how, even when evidence does exist, anti-trafficking laws and policies can still be based on assumptions, morality, political agendas or external pressures. Huschke and Ward’s contribution presents a study that the authors conducted on the applicability of the ‘Swedish model’ (a ban on the purchase of sex) in Northern Ireland and its possible impact on human trafficking. The study found that sex workers and their clients oppose the ban and the police have limited powers to enforce it. However, despite this solid evidence that the ban would have very limited effect on human trafficking, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to adopt the measure. The authors conclude that ‘evidence … is of little interest for proponents of the Swedish model’. The paper also reveals how crucial it is to actually talk to subjects affected by human trafficking policy and law, including sex workers and their clients—something no one should have to emphasize fifteen years after the signing of the UN Trafficking Protocol.

In their contribution, Millar, O’Doherty and Roots describe the difficult process of conducting socio-legal research on human trafficking in Canada and, in particular, the ‘formidable task’ of obtaining verifiable data on trafficking prosecutions and the implications this has for anti-trafficking laws and policies. Their research shows that Canadian anti-trafficking legislation is based not on robust evidence but on sensationalistic media reports, NGO advocacy and international pressure from the US government through its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. It also raises the important question of the availability and accessibility of court data that can be used to conduct research and produce evidence. The authors conclude with five recommendations for the Canadian government to facilitate research, in order to create evidence-based policies.

The links between human trafficking and vulnerability factors, such as poverty, unequal development and gender-based violence, are generally well documented and accepted in literature and policies on human trafficking. Climate change, on the other hand, is rarely considered as such a vulnerability factor. Using the Indian Sundarbans as a case study, Molinari shows how climate change in the region has exacerbated the same factors that lead to human trafficking, such as loss of livelihoods and forced migration. Despite this evidence, climate change rarely features in anti-trafficking policy and discourse. One reason, argues Molinari, may be that it does not fit neatly into the dominant anti-trafficking narrative of vulnerable women and girls and malevolent crime gangs.

Lynch and Hadjimatheou take a different approach to ‘evidence’ in their contribution. They explore the (physical) evidence on which border force officers (BFOs) at London Heathrow airport can count to implement their duties to identify potential victims of trafficking and refer them to support services. They outline the main frustrations that BFOs have with regard to their anti-trafficking work, namely, the limited power to stop and question nationals of the European Economic Area countries, the lack of powers to search travelers’ phones and view their social media profiles and the limited exchange of intelligence information with other police departments. The authors acknowledge the problematic profiling based on race and gender that occurs at borders but hope to initiate a more honest discussion about what can be reasonably expected of BFOs with regard to their anti-trafficking duties.

As already mentioned in this Editorial, the need for—and use of—global prevalence data on trafficking has been hotly debated for over a decade, but even more so in the past few years with the publication of the Global Slavery Index (GSI) by the Walk Free Foundation. In her contribution, Gallagher undertakes the onerous task to unravel the methodology behind the GSI and to question some of its findings. For example, why is wealthy and peaceful Brunei among the most vulnerable countries to ‘modern slavery’ and Singapore—among the safest, given its almost one million migrant workers, many of whom lack any protections. In addition, Gallagher reflects on the surprising lack of critical engagement with the Index by those involved in anti-trafficking work and, more broadly, the increasing influence of ‘philanthro-capitalism’ in the anti-trafficking and other development fields.

The final two thematic papers in this issue focus, to different extents, on the role of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in anti-trafficking work. From his perspective of an M&E practitioner in Southeast Asia, Harkins lists nine constraining factors to producing robust evidence for the success of anti-trafficking interventions. While some of these relate to broader issues, such as lack of definitional clarity or a criminal justice focus, others stem from insufficient investment in and capacity for conducting M&E. In his experience, most anti-trafficking projects ‘bean count’ direct outputs (such as numbers of participants trained or people reached) rather than outcomes (such as better information and knowledge acquired). Consequently, this lack of capacity precludes the production of meaningful evidence of which interventions work and which don’t.

Similar findings are shared by Van Dyke in her contribution, which explores the M&E data collected by anti-trafficking organisations working in partnerships in England and Wales. There too, the data collected by these partnerships focuses on outputs (numbers of awareness-raising materials, people reached, victims referred or suspects convicted) rather than outcomes or impacts (such as learning, enhanced wellbeing, improved referral, or increased confiscation of assets of traffickers and compensation to victims). She concludes that more robust and purposeful data collection is necessary in order to evaluate the work of anti-trafficking partnerships.

For the debate section of this issue we invited contributors to defend or reject the proposition ‘Global trafficking prevalence data advances the fight against trafficking in persons’. In her contribution, David defends the proposition by demonstrating how statistics on other crimes and victims of crime have led to improved understanding and policy measures targeting these crimes. Acknowledging the limitations of current data on trafficking, she adds that data is nevertheless critical if we are to adequately respond to human trafficking and related crimes. Feingold, for his part, rejects the proposition as what he calls ‘the numbers game’. He points to definitional problems, such as using the term ‘modern slavery’, as well as generally questions whether we can ever have serious and reliable estimates and whether they would actually help trafficked persons or anyone else. Robinson, Branchini and Thame defend the proposition on the condition that data is collected rigorously and presented in sufficient detail as to allow meaningful analysis. They offer five recommendations for improving data collection and prevalence estimates. Finally, Dottridge rejects the proposition by pointing out how global estimates obscure the situation of groups of people who have been known to endure slavery-like conditions for decades. Using the examples of Paraguay, Cambodia and Russia, he demonstrates how neither the Global Slavery Index, nor the US TIP Report give us any helpful information about which people and in which industries in these countries suffer exploitation.
Anti-Trafficking Review, Issue 8, PP 1-13 -

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