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Revealing the Complexity
of Human Trafficking

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NORC’s work in health, education, and other varied sectors allows us to see how seemingly disparate parts of a problem fit together. That perspective is especially important when tackling complex issues like human trafficking.

Kareem Kysia, Director
Vulnerable Population Research
International Programs

Like many entrenched problems, the challenge with mitigating—or even studying—human trafficking is mapping and navigating its complexity. Forced prostitution, forced labor, forced begging, forced marriage, organ removal, and enlisting child soldiers are all forms of human trafficking.

NORC staff have developed strong reputations in the field of vulnerable population research and serve on counter-trafficking panels for forums hosted by the National Academy of Sciences, USAID, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor, and other stakeholders. We have a growing portfolio of work that is helping government and non-governmental organizations (NGO) better understand the scope of human trafficking and the social and economic forces that shape its many permutations.

We recently finished two companion projects for USAID’s Counter Trafficking in Persons initiative. One project explored the prevalence of various forms of human trafficking in Honduras and how those forms differed in terms of victim vulnerabilities, recruitment patterns, and servitude experiences; the study is being used to develop future programming. The other project explored whether a nationally representative survey in the Philippines could identify trafficking victims in sufficient numbers to determine national and regional prevalence.

The Honduran study targeted vulnerable populations receiving services from 24 local NGOs throughout Honduras. NORC trained social workers from these NGOs to administer the survey, and worked with them to develop a protocol for assisting respondents who might be “re-victimized” by participating in the survey. Though the sample wasn’t representative, the surveys provided a wealth of granular insights about the different forms of trafficking in Honduras and victims’ experiences.

The more than 900 completed surveys revealed that roughly a third of respondents had been trafficked.

With a sample size of 5,000, the Philippines study was much larger and more representative. While less granular than the Honduras study, the survey methods were rigorous and provided important information to guide follow-up studies.

Most surprisingly, both studies showed that most victims were trafficked within the country rather than taken to destinations outside the country, and that most trafficking was for labor rather than sexual exploitation.

In 2019, NORC began working with the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) to estimate the prevalence of human trafficking in various industries across India and Bangladesh.

The effort comprises seven separate studies in three areas:

  • Forced labor of Bangladeshi and Indian migrants in Gulf Cooperation Council countries

  • Commercial sexual exploitation of children in select destination areas of India

  • Forced labor in informal apparel factories in select districts of Bangladesh and India

The work includes collaborating with GFEMS to design a suite of methodologies, including statistical and sampling techniques such as respondent-driven sampling and the network scale-up method, which will make it easier and less expensive to develop prevalence measures of these hard-to-reach populations.

In 2020, NORC partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor and the International Labour Organization on Evidence to Action: Increasing the Impact of Research to Mobilize Efforts against Forced Labor. Evidence to Action will gather and analyze data on the prevalence and causes of forced labor within the garment and associated textile sectors of Argentina and Mauritius. In addition, the project will build the capacity of organizations to use research to prevent, identify, and combat forced labor; provide globally relevant examples and assessment of tools for the investigation of forced labor; and empower a broad group of stakeholders to act on the research findings, making the link from data to policy.