Traffickers and Trafficking Enterprises. Challenges in researching human traffickers and trafficking operations

This post originally appeared on July 31, 2015 at The Trafficking Research Project

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Traffickers and Trafficking Enterprises. Challenges in researching human traffickers and trafficking operations.

TTRP has taken a reprieve – and there are changes underfoot! Until our next and final post, Rebecca Surtees, to whom we are immensely grateful for steadfastly supporting our mission, provides us with a final guest contribution to the blog.

This post is adapted from Traffickers and trafficking. Challenges in researching human traffickers and trafficking operations, a paper authored by NEXUS Institute within the framework of the NEXUS Institute and IOM Human Trafficking Research Series funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). For more information on this topic and others relating to strategies to obtain and analyse better data for more impact, visit us atwww.NEXUSInstitute.net and @NEXUSInstitute.

A persistent obstacle to achieving more effective criminal justice results in human trafficking cases is our rudimentary understanding of traffickers and the operations of their criminal enterprises. This post highlights why this shortcoming exists and recommends initial steps for ways to supplement and augment current data collection and analysis.

While much research exists about trafficking victims, far less is known about the behaviours, motivations and operations of the perpetrators of trafficking. A clearer picture of how traffickers operate can be used in the development of criminal justice and social welfare responses to human trafficking – informing policies, strategies and interventions. Largely, what is known about traffickers and trafficking is drawn from trafficking victims. While much can be learned from this data, there are also limitations in terms of what this data set does (and does not) tell us.

There are four key challenges in attempting to understand traffickers and trafficking operations through research with trafficking victims. These are:

  1. The impact of selection bias: which trafficked persons are interviewed (and what subgroups can reveal). Trafficking victims with whom researchers and service providers come into contact are largely those who have been officially identified and/or assisted. Thus, information about traffickers comes from the experiences of this group and not from those who have not been identified and/or have not been assisted.
  1. Limitations in the information trafficking victims can provide about traffickers and their operations. While victims may have some information about their exploiters and the trafficking process, they are unlikely to have a comprehensive understanding about traffickers and/or their operations. Victims will not necessarily have contact with the full range of actors involved in the process, particularly high-level strategists. As a consequence, trafficked persons are likely able to provide only certain types of limited information and are generally unfamiliar with the intricacies of the trafficking operation.
  1. The ability of victims to supply information about traffickers. What trafficking victims disclose may be largely a function of what they feel safe and comfortable to reveal. Some may fear reprisals from traffickers, or mistrust authorities. Others may wish only to put their trafficking experience behind them. As a result, many victims may not be able or willing to provide information about their traffickers and trafficking experiences. Victims may also be more open to talking about some individuals and actors involved in the trafficking process as opposed to others, which influences what data is available.
  1. Ethical issues related to some types of questions. Researchers must consider ethical issues in research with trafficked persons, not least the stress and difficulty of being interviewed about trafficking experiences and exploiters. When service providers collect information from trafficking victims they are assisting, there is also a blurring of the roles and boundaries between research and service provision, which can impact the data and undermine feelings of comfort and trust.

Nonetheless, recent studies suggest potentially fruitful entry points for research about traffickers and their operations, drawing on two distinct types of data:

  1. Criminal justice statistics, including police investigations and court documents. Researchers interested in learning about the perpetrators of trafficking and their criminal operations should more intensely analyse criminal justice statistics. Official crime statistics provide information in terms of the criminal justice system response to trafficking, including what is working well and what needs improvement. Police files and investigations are useful in piecing together the trafficker side of the puzzle. Court transcripts, where legally accessible, reveal information about the individuals involved (including descriptions of traffickers’ lives, motivations and actions) as well as individual cases and movement through the criminal justice system. A number of studies illustrate the depth and breadth of information that can be drawn from criminal justice data including: Another Delivery from Tashkent, Understanding human trafficking: Development of typologies of traffickers, Women who traffic women: the role of women in human trafficking networks – Dutch cases, The organisation of human trafficking. A study of criminal involvement in sexual exploitation in Sweden, Finland and Estonia and Analysis of Some Highly-Structured Networks of Human Smuggling and Trafficking from Albania and Bulgaria to Belgium.

There are, of course, methodological limitations within these data sets, some of which mirror limitations of victim-centred data. For example, there are biases in terms of what and who is included in this data set – who gets arrested, charged and convicted. Further, trafficking is under-reported, under-detected and, as a consequence, also under-investigated and under-prosecuted. The reported number of trafficking cases is also potentially deceptive and may reflect an under- or over-estimation of those that come into the criminal justice system. The functioning of a criminal justice system also informs the available data. Different information gathering tools, variable skills of criminal justice practitioners, and the legal and policy framework can all play significant roles in what data is generated and what this data reveals. Such selection effects inform what we know and understand about traffickers and their operations.

  1. Primary research with traffickers. Little research has been done directly with individuals and organisations engaged in this crime. However, primary research can reveal much about who traffickers are in different settings and markets; their roles and levels of engagement; how trafficking takes place; how it differs according to location, destination and form of exploitation; traffickers’ motivations and their relationships to the persons they exploit; how human trafficking operations work within the broader market; and trafficker perceptions and feelings about their “work”. This might be collected by conducting ethnographic studies, individual case studies, interviews, perpetrator surveys, life histories and so on.

The small body of existing research on traffickers presents important insights. Not infrequently, it begins to reveal a picture that differs, at least in part, from that based on information from trafficking victims, law enforcement, service providers and other anti-trafficking professionals. For example, a number of studies describe how traffickers perceive their role in trafficking operations – for example as facilitators in the migration process or business persons helping out prospective migrants. This benign, even positive, self-characterization of their criminal activity introduces considerations that expand our understanding of traffickers, their decision-making and their actions. See for example, Techniques of neutralizing the trafficking of women. A case study of an active trafficker in Greece. Others focus on the trafficking operations, at different levels and involvement of traffickers, including Sex trafficking: an exploratory study interviewing traffickers, From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-pimps in Chicago, A report on trafficking in women and children in India and Organised immigration crime: a post-conviction study. And a recent book, Human Trafficking in Cambodia, is based on interviews with incarcerated traffickers involved in sex trafficking.

Research with traffickers is difficult and complex. Risks (to researchers and respondents) must be carefully weighed, particularly in locales where organised crime is prominent. Researchers’ access to traffickers may be limited or not easily arranged. Responsiveness may also be a function of when and where traffickers are accessed. Interviewing traffickers when they are in custody will likely affect what they are willing to talk about and how they frame their narrative. Careful thought is needed as to what information one collects from traffickers as well as in what context and why.

There are also ethical considerations to consider when researching traffickers, in terms of holding information that may help identify victims or observing, and possibly even inadvertently participating in, the trafficking process. Nonetheless, there are opportunities for collecting information directly from persons involved in various parts of the trafficking process. Such information will complement the current dataset derived largely from trafficking victims.

Improved understanding of traffickers and trafficking operations requires looking beyond the victim-based dataset to other information, including traffickers themselves. Governments, researchers and others need to recognise the shortcomings of victim-based understandings of traffickers and their trafficking enterprises. Relying primarily on information provided by trafficking victims to study traffickers results in substantial biases and selection effects influencing our knowledge of traffickers and trafficking operations. It also contributes to a “black and white” picture of trafficking victims and traffickers, when the reality is often far more complex. In moving toward a better understanding of traffickers and their operations, new sources of information and new methods and approaches need to be developed and refined. This need is more than methodological. It is also an issue of perspective in which an understanding and explanation of trafficking is derived largely (and sometimes exclusively) by considering the behaviours, actions and backgrounds of trafficking victims to the exclusion of the perpetrators of the crime whose actions and motivations should be the primary concern if combating trafficking is our objective.

After trafficking. The reintegration needs and experiences of trafficked children

This post originally appeared on March 14, 2014 at The Trafficking Research Project

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After trafficking. The (re)integration needs and experiences of trafficked children

Regular contributor Rebecca Surtees from the NEXUS Institute is back this week. This post focuses on one of the findings identified in“After Trafficking. Experiences and challenges in the (re)integration of trafficked persons in the GMS”, a regional study of (re)integration in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS). The research study was commissioned by the six COMMIT governments as part of the 2nd and 3rd COMMIT Sub-regional Plan of Action (2008-2010 and 2011-2013). The study, conducted by NEXUS Instituteanalysed the effectiveness of (re)integration processes and structures from the point of view of trafficked persons and the service providers that support them, uncovering whether and to what extent services currently offered to trafficking victims and their families are meeting their (re)integration needs, including any unmet assistance needs. The study was coordinated by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) and was overseen by a Regional Working Group comprised of Save the Children UK, World Vision International, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),NEXUS Institute and UNIAP. 

This study was based on in-depth interviews with 252 trafficked persons from all six countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) about their experiences of (re)integration, including successes and challenges, as well as future plans and aspirations. The study included persons who had been identified and assisted, as well as those who were not identified and/or did not receive assistance. Understanding the diverse and complex post-trafficking trajectories sheds light on a wide range of issues and dynamics at play in the (re)integration processes in the GMS. It also highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of existing (re)integration mechanisms and processes.

Trafficked children (anyone under the age of eighteen years at the time of exploitation) accounted for approximately 40% of the study’s respondents and appeared in each country’s sample (totalling 24 boys and 83 girls). These trafficked children were primarily exploited within the region, although in a handful of cases the children were exploited in neighbouring countries, namely Malaysia and Indonesia. Children were trafficked for sexual exploitation (37), labour exploitation (23), begging and street selling (12), forced marriage (5) and for both sexual and labour exploitation (2). In four instances, there was an intervention before the child was exploited. Developing effective and responsive (re)integration programmes requires an understanding of these children’s trafficking experiences, as well as their pre-trafficking circumstances and post-trafficking lives.

Trafficked children, by virtue of their age, maturity and trafficking experience, had specific and often specialised assistance needs. Some (re)integration organisations were specialised in supporting the (re)integration of trafficked children and offered comprehensive and tailored services to children of different ages and at different stages of development. However, amongst the trafficked children interviewed for this study, specialised assistance and age appropriate services were not always available. In some cases, (re)integration services for children did not differ substantially from those for adults and most children did not describe assistance tailored to their individual needs as children. Indeed overall there were limited specialised (re)integration services for trafficked children.

Issues in the provision of child-specific (re)integration support centred around different service areas including:

1. Appropriate accommodation for trafficked children

Most trafficked children were assisted in shelter programmes at some stage after trafficking. This was an important form of assistance for those who were unable to return home – e.g. because they were without parents or a viable family environment. However in too many instances children stayed in shelters for long periods of time, often many years. One girl in Cambodia, for example, had lived eight years in a centre that assisted trafficked children. In very few instances was “kinship care” (care provided by relatives or extended family) pursued in spite of being the best alternative when family reunification was not possible. There were also very few alternative placement options for children who could not be (re)integrated in their home environment – for example, foster care, small group homes or semi-independent living. There was also limited support for trafficked children and youth in transitioning to an independent life when unable to return to family/community.

2. Medical assistance

Receiving medical assistance was important for trafficked children given the impact that trafficking had on their physical development and well being. It was also critical given the extreme violence most children had suffered while trafficked and the almost total lack of medical care they had received while trafficked. One Vietnamese girl, assisted in a shelter programme, identified medical care as a key form of support, because her family was too poor to pay for medical treatment. The availability of medical care in the shelter (and the lack of this assistance in the community) was a key factor in her decision to accept assistance. Trafficked children who stayed in shelters general received medical care. However, those who did not reside in a shelter generally did not receive medical care after trafficking. Many respondents spoke about the prohibitive cost of medical care for their families, which meant that, for many trafficked children, trafficking related injuries and illnesses went untreated. Even when medical assistance was provided, staff did not always have the training and skills to provide sensitive and appropriate services to trafficked children, which is critical when treating highly traumatised and extensively violated children.

3. Psychosocial support and counselling

Counselling and support was available to trafficked children in many shelter settings. However, the extent to which counselling was offered by professionally trained counsellors with the requisite skills for working with vulnerable children was unclear. Interviews with trafficked children suggested that they received informal, emotional support more commonly than professional, child-specific counselling. There was a need for culturally and child appropriate counselling, as well as support in developing coping tools like how to deal with stress, anger, conflict and so on.

4. Education, including integration into formal schooling

Many trafficked children had very low education levels and often lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills. Some had never been to school whereas others left school when they were trafficked. Options for educational opportunities were generally limited to children assisted in a shelter programme. Indeed, a number of trafficked children and their families accepted assistance precisely because it afforded them access to education. Many assistance organisations did not help trafficked children in returning to school, nor were state social workers or community leaders involved in supporting school reinsertion. Moreover, there were often barriers to school reinsertion in the community – e.g. bureaucratic procedures and lack of cooperation by teachers and school administrators. More than one trafficked child was told that they were “too old” to return to school, but were offered no option for “catch-up classes” or information about alternatives like non-formal education or vocational education/training.

5. Life skills education

Trafficked children commonly lacked basic life skills – e.g. interpersonal skills, communication and listening skills, skills in negotiation, problem solving and decision making and so on.

Life skills were vital to help trafficked children move on from trafficking and to successfully (re)integrate in their family and/or community. Trafficked children and youth interviewed for this study often seemed to suffer from a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. One boy, trafficked for labour in China, described his feelings about being tricked into his trafficking situation. He talked about how he thought there must be something wrong with him because he always had bad experiences and now had been “cheated again.” Later, while accommodated at a shelter, he came into conflict with another boy staying there and chose to run away because he didn’t know how to resolve the problem.

6. Vocational training

Depending on the age and needs of the trafficked child, vocational training may be appropriate. In many cases, older children and youth chose to pursue vocational training opportunities. Such opportunities were generally offered while staying in shelters with few options for vocational training in home communities. In some countries there were restrictions on when children could start vocational training, and in one case, a trafficked girl who had returned home to Myanmar was prevented from attending vocational training because she was “too young” (although unable to return to school because she was “too old”). Instead, she worked for a year until she was eligible to be trained. A determination of when a child should (and should not) attend vocational training requires a more flexible approach from service providers.

7. Economic support (to the trafficked child/youth or their family)

While some trafficked children and youth directly received economic support, it was commonly given to their parents/guardians. Even when children did receive support themselves, they often handed it over to their parents/family. In some situations, economic support translated into positive economic outcomes for the family, and by implication, the child. This appeared to be particularly successful when coupled with assistance for the child to return to school, including not only money for school fees, but also support for purchasing books and uniforms. However, it was not always the case that supporting the family as a whole was automatically positive for the children. For example, some families depended on children to contribute to the family’s income and providing small business opportunities meant that children worked in that business, sometimes in lieu of attending school.

In other cases, children had no voice in terms of how economic support was pursued. Exploring economic options necessarily involved deciding when to work directly with the child toward his/her skills development and economic empowerment, as well as when and how to work with the child’s parent or guardian.  For example, one boy, trafficked internally in Myanmar for labour, was assisted to return to school by a local community-based programme. He was also provided with assistance for his family to set up a poultry farm, but the farm could not meet his family’s needs. His father was ill and unable to work every day. Therefore the boy also needed to continue to contribute to his family’s income. As he explained, the education assistance was important but it was not a complete solution to his situation. The overarching factor, ultimately, should have been a determination of the child’s best interest, which could only have been assessed by involving the child in this decision-making process.

8. Legal assistance and support during legal proceedings

Many trafficked children, including some who were very young, were involved as victim/witnesses in legal proceedings against their traffickers and there seemed to be limited options to decline to be involved. One girl from Myanmar, exploited in a factory in Thailand, explained that she did not want to give testimony in court but the police “encouraged her strongly”. Trafficked children, like adults, generally gave testimony and statements on multiple occasions through translation and in an environment where they did not understand the language. Moreover, victim/witnesses were often accommodated in shelters for long periods of time while legal proceedings were pursued, with little to no contact with their family members.

9. Family mediation, counselling and support

Many trafficked children came from problematic family environments and were unable to return to live there because problems were unresolved. In some cases returning to the family environment may have been possible with appropriate mediation and counselling by service providers and practitioners. This form of assistance was generally lacking in the region. Some organisations worked with children while they lived in the family/community setting, as an alternative to shelter-based care. While not an option for all trafficked children (some originated from very unhealthy and difficult environments), it was a constructive approach for families, which, when supported during (re)integration (e.g. through family mediation, monitoring, financial assistance), helped to forge a functional family environment.

10. Case management and follow-up after (re)integration

Children were likely to require a longer period of monitoring and follow-up as part of (re)integration given their specific situation and vulnerabilities and because they were not in a position to care for themselves as children. In addition, the types of assistance needed by children – e.g. education – are longer term, often a matter of several years.  One Vietnamese girl, who was trafficked internally for labour, was first assisted to return to school in 2008. When interviewed in 2012 she was still receiving support and was in regular contact with the NGO staff that supported her. By contrast, some trafficked children received little to no case management and monitoring.

11. Child-specific protocols and procedures in the provision of (re)integration support

Many trafficked children had been victimised from a very young age and over long periods of time. Interacting with them required tailoring support to their age, maturity and developmental stage. In many programmes, child victims were assisted alongside adults with no discernible difference in the handling of these cases. The implementation of child-specific protocols and procedures appeared to have been very limited.

It was also concerning that children were not consulted about their assistance in many cases, with the needs of trafficked children determined solely by service providers, or by service providers in consultation with their parents or guardians. One girl from Myanmar, trafficked for begging and street selling in Malaysia, was assisted by an organisation upon her return, assistance that she very much needed and was grateful to receive. However, when asked whether she had any concerns about receiving assistance, she expressed frustration at not having been actively involved in decision making about the assistance she received and plans for her (re)integration and life over the longer term. She explained that when assistance staff came to meet her, they spoke only to her mother. They did not consult with her.

Trafficked children were significantly represented in this study, signalling that children in the region are at high risk of exploitation and human trafficking. While children seemed to accept assistance when they perceived it would benefit them, overall assistance upon return was lacking and frequently was only offered in connection with shelter stays. Greater attention (and resources) are needed to more adequately support the specific and diverse needs of trafficked children in moving on from their trafficking experiences, particularly in the long term and in their home communities. This will involve not only improving the capacity of anti-trafficking professionals working with children, but also mainstreaming (re)integration services for trafficked children into the social protection framework which should, in principle, be equipped with specialised skills in working with vulnerable children. Critically, trafficked children need to be (voluntarily) involved in the development and monitoring of (re)integration programmes designed to assist them. Only with their participation and input will (re)integration programmes and policies in the region be able to meet their needs and interests.

Trapped at sea. Using the legal and regulatory framework to combat trafficking at sea

This post originally appeared on February 21, 2014 at The Trafficking Research Project

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Trapped at sea. Using the legal and regulatory framework to combat trafficking at sea

Once again, we welcome Rebecca Surtees from the NEXUS InstituteThis post is adapted from “Trapped at sea. Using the Legal and Regulatory Framework to Prevent and Combat the Trafficking of Seafarers and Fishers”, published in 2013 in the Groningen Journal of International Law. Vol. 1, No. 2: Human Trafficking. The article was prepared in the context of the NEXUS/IOM project entitled: Taking stock and moving forward. Considering methods, ethics and approaches in trafficking research and data collection, funded by U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). The original article is also available atwww.NEXUSInstitute.net and www.WarnathGroup.com.

Recognition of the diversity of trafficking for forced labour in recent years has included increased attention to exploitation within the seafaring and commercial fishing industries. It is clear, based upon our research, not only that human trafficking takes place, but that such cases are aided by sector-specific aspects that heighten levels of risk and vulnerability for seafarers and fishers that may lend themselves to abuses, such as isolation at sea, lax regulation, oversight and enforcement, and limited contact with authorities on land and at sea.  Trafficked seafarers and fishers in various regions of the world are exposed to a range of hardships, including: the lack of basic necessities like food and water for extended periods; substandard and often inhumane conditions; long work hours, sometimes days on end, with only a few minutes of break in this time; lack of any compensation; restricted or no freedom of movement; and violence against them.

Given that research by NEXUS Institute has documented a spectrum of abuse against seafarers and fishers as well as a context of heightened risk and vulnerability, greater understanding is needed of the full range of abuse at sea experienced by seafarers and fishers – including cases that rise to the level of human trafficking.

Addressing exploitation in these sectors requires an effective and appropriate transnational legal and regulatory framework, which is enforced across jurisdictions. Understanding the various legal and regulatory opportunities to prevent and combat trafficking at sea is an essential starting point for future discussion and intervention.

International law that may be used to combat trafficking at sea falls generally into three areas:

1) International anti-trafficking law: including human rights law as it applies to trafficking-related exploitation. Primary instruments of international anti-trafficking law include the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking Protocol) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (CoE Convention);

2) International maritime law: the body of laws, conventions and treaties that govern international private business or other matters involving ships and shipping; and

3) The international law of the sea: the body of public international law that primarily draws on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); almost universally recognised as establishing the regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas.

Understanding the laws that can be used to improve the situations of fishers and seafarers requires parsing these complex bodies of international law relevant to trafficking at sea.

“Trafficking at sea”, in the context of this discussion, involves seafarers and fishers undertaking at-sea activities, including the transport of cargo, fishing, fish processing and transportation while on vessels, rafts, fishing platforms or otherwise offshore. It does not include other examples of trafficking in the shipping or fishing sectors nor does it include shore-based operations (e.g. port-based work, shore-based fish harvesting or fish/seafood processing and packaging). The definition of a fisher is found in the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (subsequently referred to as the WIF Convention); in lay terms, a fisher is any individual who is a member of the crew on board a fishing vessel. This differs from a seafarer, who according to the Maritime Labour Convention (subsequently referred to as MLC) is “any person who is employed or engaged in any capacity on board a ship to which this Convention applies”. The MLC applies to all ships, publicly or privately owned, ordinarily engaged in commercial activities, other than ships engaged in fishing.

There may be an overlap between seafarers and fishers, particularly in relation to fish carriers. For example, in our study of trafficked seafarers from Ukraine, a number of men were trafficked on vessels engaged in illegal crabbing in the waters off of Russia. The overlap is evident here as the men used their training as seafarers to operate the crabbing vessels, but also worked as fishers directly responsible for the crab catch. That being said, as all of their work took place on board a fishing vessel, they would be considered fishers as they fall under the definition of fishers according to the WIF Convention.

Distinguishing between seafarers and fishers according to the type of vessel (fishing or merchant) on which they work is important because maritime law offers different protections for individuals on board, depending on the classification of a ship. Under maritime law, fishing vessels are less regulated than merchant fleets and crews aboard fishing vessels are, arguably, more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking.

Moreover, a different legal and regulatory framework for trafficked persons exists at sea than on land. Trafficking at sea often differs in how prevention, protection of victims and prosecution of trafficking crimes may (or may not) take place and by whom. Trafficked seafarers and fishers may find themselves aboard vessels that are unflagged or flagged to another State, ashore in a foreign port or never entering port, and/or suffering abuse and exploitation on the high seas or in waters that fall within the territory of one or various States. The issue of jurisdiction is particularly relevant in the context of trafficking at sea given the increased likelihood of trans-jurisdiction, with merchant and fishing vessels moving easily and often between jurisdictions. Determining which State(s) has (have) legal and regulatory responsibilities to address trafficking at sea not only depends on the nationality of the victim and of the trafficker(s), but also on where the vessel is (i.e. the ports and waters it may enter) and the country to which the vessel is registered.

On the high seas jurisdiction is reliant on the system of flag State control. All vessels must fly the flag of the country to which they are registered: the State under whose protection the ship sails and to whose laws it must adhere. This is known as flag State responsibility. In reality, many vessels fly what are known as “flags of convenience” (FoCs). This refers to the business practice of registering a merchant ship or fishing vessel in a sovereign State different from that of the ship owners to reduce operating costs or avoid certain regulations. FoCs are from States with an open register that usually are unable or unwilling to take seriously their flag State responsibilities, either in terms of enforcing their existing national laws or in terms of implementing laws that comply with their responsibilities under the treaties they have ratified. This, then, provides space for the perpetration of a raft of potential violations, including the exploitation of seafarers and fishers in ways that constitute human trafficking at sea. Lack of regulation further limits opportunities for identification of those already aboard vessels or for escape from trafficking.

Liberia, for example, is a commonly used FoC. The Liberian Registry is one of the largest and most active shipping registers, with approximately 4,000 ships registered to the Liberian flag in 2013. But, according to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the U.S. Department of State, the Government of Liberia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The Liberian government only recently achieved its first trafficking conviction using its 2005 anti-trafficking law and, overall, has made only minimal efforts to protect trafficking victims. If a trafficking situation were to be identified on a ship flying Liberia’s flag on the high seas, Liberia’s anti-trafficking legislation would apply and the protection of trafficked seafarers or fishers on board would depend on the Government of Liberia’s ability or willingness to enforce that legislation. It is concerning that the most common FoCs, like Liberia, are those of States that have not brought their national laws and anti-trafficking efforts in accordance with the requirements of the Trafficking Protocol and, where relevant, the CoE Convention.

A further complication is that seafarers and fishers are often recruited through crewing agencies that may or may not have an official presence in their home countries. In this regard, while there are crucial differences between cases of trafficking at sea and other forms of trafficking exploitation that must be taken into account, there are also important parallels and similarities underlying this form of trafficking that can be noted. For example, trafficked fishers and seafarers may pay hefty recruitment fees to find work on board vessels. Issues of fraud and deception in contracts and/or the recruitment process, subcontracting, and multiple levels of culpability from crewing agencies to vessel owners complicate problems for fishers and seafarers who find themselves in exploitative situations. The lessons that can be learned in addressing such challenges (e.g. requiring recruitment fees to be borne by the employer or ensuring that trafficked persons are not criminalised for crimes they commit as part of their exploitation) can and should be applied to exploitation in other sectors.

The quality of current national legislation in many States remains a limiting factor in terms of States’ ability to combat human trafficking and States need to bring their legislation in line with their obligations under anti-trafficking law and maritime law (and enforce their laws on their vessels as required by the law of the sea). A commitment is also needed by States to implement and enforce the existing obligations from international anti-trafficking law, international maritime law and the law of the sea to combat trafficking at sea. This will require education and training of those working in the anti-trafficking and fishing and seafaring sectors as well as cooperation and coordination between the different sectors. It will also require monitoring and enforcement by and of States, and also likely incentives and sanctions for those States who do not live up to their obligations to prevent and combat trafficking at sea.

 

Ethical principles in the re/integration of trafficked persons. Experiences from the Balkans

This post originally appeared on October 18, 2013 at The Trafficking Research Project

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Ethical principles in the re/integration of trafficked persons. Experiences from the Balkans

This week we welcome back Rebecca Surtees. Rebecca is Senior Researcher at NEXUS Institute, an international human rights research and policy center in Washington, DC. NEXUS Institute is dedicated to combating human trafficking as well as other human rights abuses. This post is written in conjunction with a newly released report on developing common ethical principles within anti-trafficking re/integration.

In the Balkan region, human trafficking continues to be a pressing issue. One central aspect of anti-trafficking work is re/integration; the process of recovery and economic and social inclusion following a trafficking experience. Re/integration services are often key to trafficked persons’ ability to recover and move on with their lives. And yet few organisations and programmes have developed ethical principles according to which their re/integration work is implemented, monitored and evaluated. 

In response to this gap, a set of ethical principles for re/integration programmes and policies have been developed in the Balkan region. These principles – a new and significant development in re/integration work – were developed by NEXUS Institute in collaboration with eleven re/integration NGOs supported under the Trafficking Victims Re/Integration Programme (TVRP), funded by the King Baudouin Foundation and GIZ. These principles, grounded in direct re/integration work and developed collaboratively from the bottom-up, aim to hold re/integration practitioners and policy makers to a higher standard and to be accountable in their work. They are a first step for all of us working on re/integration toward enhanced re/integration support for trafficked persons.

Ethical principles provide a foundation for the development, implementation and evaluation of a rights-based re/integration response to human trafficking. Principles underpinning re/integration work relate to attitudes, rights and duties about human welfare – for example: “respect for the autonomy of service users” or the “promotion of human welfare”.

Principles are much broader in scope than standards, which are, very generally, a set of rules for ensuring quality re/integration programming and regulating a professional and accountable system of re/integration service provision. Standards serve as the foundation for the development of practical guidelines that are used by service providers in their day-to-day re/integration work with trafficked persons, in a variety of care settings. Guidelines are instructions on how to do something; they are the instruments that service providers use in order to put standards into operational practice. Standards and guidelines exist in some places and not in others. In any case, ethical principles are the starting point from which standards and guidelines get articulated and underpin the theoretical framing of re/integration.

Professional ethics concern matters of right and wrong conduct, good and bad qualities of character and the professional responsibilities attached to relationships in a work context.

Ethical principles are intended for use by any professional working in the field of anti-trafficking re/integration, whether for GOs, NGOs or IOs, from a range of different fields including social work, psychology, medicine, law enforcement, law and so on. Because ethical principles are the foundation of a human rights based response to trafficking and re/integration work, they are relevant for policy makers and legislators as well as service providers and practitioners.

Some of these ethical principles are mandated by international and national legislation, making their safeguarding not only an issue of ethics but also a legal requirement. For example, there are a range of legal issues associated with the collection, transfer and sharing of sensitive data (sometimes the subject of legislation on data protection), such as data collected in the context of re/integration case management. In some cases, re/integration programmes and activities may be governed by multiple legal and ethical codes – for example, the country of the organisation managing the programme, the country where the programme is being implemented (if different from the former) and/or the country funding the programme – making implementation challenging.

Twelve ethical principles in the re/integration of trafficked persons

Principle #1. ‘Do no harm’. 

Re/integration programmes and policies should “do no harm” to trafficked persons.

Principle #2. Informed consent.

Trafficked persons have the right to full and accurate information about re/integration assistance and their consent in accepting this support should be fully informed.

Principle #3. Confidentiality.

Trafficked persons’ confidentiality must be strictly guarded in the context of re/integration work.

Principle #4. Anonymity.

Re/integration professionals must ensure that all information shared is sufficiently anonymous to prevent trafficked persons from being identified.

Principle #5. Privacy.

Trafficked persons have the right to privacy, to be free of unwanted or unsanctioned intrusion at all stages of their re/integration.

Principle #6. Non-discrimination.

Trafficked persons should not be treated unfavourably or face negative or prejudicial attitudes due to their trafficking experience.

Principle #7. Safety and security.

Trafficked persons’ safety and security is paramount and must be assessed (and responded to) throughout the re/integration process.

Principle #8. Sensitivity.

Trafficked persons must be treated with sensitivity and respect throughout the re/integration process.

Principle #9. Empowerment.

Trafficked persons should be equipped with the skills, ability and confidence to recover and lead an autonomous life. Empowerment should be fostered throughout the re/integration process.

Principle #10. Beneficiary participation.

Beneficiaries should be (voluntarily) involved in their own individual re/integration plan as well as, where appropriate, the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the re/integration services, programmes and policies.

Principle #11. Data protection.

Data collected about trafficked persons in the context of re/integration must be strictly protected in adherence with national and international legal standards.

Principle #12. Child protection and the “best interests of the child”.

Re/integration programmes and policies should ensure that trafficked children are protected and their best interests are the primary consideration.

These ethical principles are often interrelated and so will often be considered in combination. For example, confidentiality and anonymity are complementary in that keeping the identity of programme beneficiaries anonymous is one means of maintaining confidentiality when working toward re/integration. Similarly, protecting confidentiality is essential to ensure both the safety of victims and also data protection. Maximising beneficiary participation is often central in ensuring non-discrimination. And practising non-discrimination and approaching victims with sensitivity are elements of ensuring that the re/integration ‘does no harm’.

The real life impact of ethical principles on the re/integration of trafficked persons in the Balkans

Supporting beneficiary participation and empowerment

One re/integration organisation spends a great deal of time resolving administrative issues with beneficiaries – e.g. civil registration, obtaining new documents and so on. Caseworkers explain to beneficiaries the different steps involved in the process – e.g. what office to contact, how to get there, how to fill in forms and how to submit documents. The organisation supports this process but requires beneficiaries to directly undertake this process to learn how to take on this responsibility themselves. 

Gaining informed consent

“Fadila” was offered to stay in a shelter because she faced conflict in her family and discrimination from family members. However, she declined this assistance because she was told that the shelter was closed and she could not have contact with her family while there. The state social worker, the police officer and the social worker from the re/integration programme spent time with her and her family to explain the programme, including that it was voluntary and she could leave at any time. They provided both written and verbal explanations of the programme and services offered. Eventually she agreed to enter the programme.

Breeching the principle of ‘do no harm’

“Emina”, a trafficked girl, was involved in two legal proceedings related to her trafficking experience – one for human trafficking, the other for rape. Staff from the Centre for Social Work arranged for Emina to provide testimony in both cases on the same day to save time and reduce travel costs. Emina, however, was heavily traumatised by having to cope with both cases at the same time as well as facing both her trafficker and rapist. Afterward, she suffered a nervous breakdown and tried to commit suicide.

Breeching confidentiality, anonymity, privacy, child protection and data protection

One organisation working on re/integration faced a situation in which it was legally obliged by the state social services to share case files of their child beneficiaries. However, the staff subsequently learned that these case files had not been securely and confidentially stored but rather had been left in boxes in the corridors of social services’ offices, accessible to anyone who wished to look at them.

Breeching sensitivity, privacy and confidentiality

“Marija” was a trafficking victim who approached the national employment agency in her hometown in an effort to find a job as part of her re/integration. A clerk at the admissions desk recognised her and began asking her questions about her life. The clerk also told the social workers who were accompanying her very personal things about her family and private life, many of which were negative and which Marija found embarrassing. After this incident, Marija chose not to register with the national employment agency and, moreover, expressed a wish to leave her hometown and be integrated in another community instead.

While ethical principles have often been implicit in the work of re/integration organisations, there is great value in identifying and explicitly articulating them. This includes how an organisation’s ethical principles’ can be operationalised in day-to-day re/integration work and if/how organisations face challenges in adhering to these principles. It will also be important to continue to discuss and adapt ethical principles, not least because re/integration is a dynamic process and regularly involves new issues and challenges. To ensure successful, sustainable and ethical re/integration programming and policies, new ethical principles (or the further articulation of these existing principles) are likely to be needed as well as the tools for implementation and monitoring of those principles.

Researching the unseen: Challenges in human trafficking research

This post originally appeared on June 14, 2013 at The Trafficking Research Project

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Researching the unseen: Challenges in human trafficking research.

 TTRP is pleased to have Rebecca Surtees as a guest blogger this week. Rebecca is Senior Researcher at NEXUS Institute, an international human rights research and policy center in Washington, DC. NEXUS Institute is dedicated to combating human trafficking as well as other human rights abuses. Recent research studies include: Trafficked at sea. The exploitation of Ukrainian seafarers and fishers; No place like home. Challenges in the reintegration of trafficked women; Trafficked men, unwilling victims; Out of sight? Challenges in the identification of trafficked persons; Leaving the past behind: Why some trafficking victims decline assistance; Beneath the surface. Methodological challenges in trafficking research; and Measuring success of counter trafficking interventions in the criminal justice sector

Researching the unseen

Much human trafficking research is based on data from trafficked persons who have been formally identified and assisted by anti-trafficking organisations and professionals. This type of research reveals a great deal about their pre-trafficking situations and vulnerabilities, their trafficking experiences and their assistance experiences and needs, all of which is essential in informing policies and interventions to prevent and combat trafficking.

However, there are certain biases in terms of the information that we get from trafficking victims who have been identified and assisted, which means that our picture of trafficking is only partial. That is, not all trafficked persons are offered (or accept) assistance and there are also differences in terms of which trafficked persons researchers will have access to and why. Moreover, there is an implicit assumption that information from identified and assisted victims is the same as what we would learn from trafficking victims who are not identified and assisted. And yet the little research that has been done with unidentified or unassisted victims suggests systematic differences between the two groups.

Unidentified and unassisted

Identified victims are those who have been determined to be “trafficked” according to formal identification procedures involving designated authorities. Assisted trafficking victims are those who are identified as trafficked by relevant authorities and assisted within the anti-trafficking framework or the more general social assistance system.

Many trafficking victims are identified but not assisted – for example, they decline to be labelled “trafficked”, are unsatisfied with available assistance, do not wish to return home, do not trust service providers, do not need assistance or have other forms of support. Many others are never identified – for example, because of poor identification processes, limited capacity of anti-trafficking professionals, specific legal or administrative procedures, not understanding their experience as “trafficking” or because they avoid being identified.

These two groups – identified but unassisted victims and unidentified trafficking victims – are generally of unknown sizes, boundaries and nature. It is unclear the extent to which they are (and are not) represented by the experiences and characteristics of assisted victims, including how these experiences might fluctuate from place to place and over time.

Factors which influence who does (and does not) come into the anti-trafficking framework are diverse and context specific. They include not only individual or family characteristics (e.g. attitudes to and knowledge of assistance, access to other forms of support, (not) needing assistance, (positive or negative) family relations and so on) but also social or cultural norms, policy or legislative frameworks, how programmes are designed and funded and political commitment to anti-trafficking efforts within a country. Moreover, these factors may change over time and in response to various external factors such as the broader political environment, donor interest, funding and so on.

Reaching the unreachable

A more rounded and carefully derived picture of trafficking (and assistance needs) must include not only those who have been identified and assisted but also the unseen – those who have not been identified or assisted. Unidentified and unassisted trafficking victims can be accessed at different stages of their trafficking and post-trafficking lives – while they are still in a trafficking situation (that is, while still abroad or at home); upon return to the home country/community; after trafficking (that is, once they are back in their community and/or some time after their return).

Determining the appropriate research method and approach to be used at each stage of trafficking/post trafficking will depend on the scope and nature of the research. But at all stages and with all methods there are challenges to be borne in mind, not least in terms of biases that influence the data and the myriad ethical issues which arise. Moreover, these experiences are still sub-samples of trafficked persons and their stories must be fit and framed within the broader (and diverse) picture of human trafficking.

For example:

Researching persons still in trafficking situations. Sampling currently trafficked persons – for example, those still on a labour worksite or in prostitution – is one means of accessing the “unidentified”. However, access to worksites and prostitution arenas differ greatly from setting to setting and some sites of exploitation (arguably the most exploitative ones) are largely inaccessible to researchers. Moreover, access is generally arranged through gatekeepers, which means that access (and the boundaries of the research sample) is informed by the mandate, work and relationships of these agencies or institutions as well as any motives they may have or perspectives they wish to advance – e.g. ideological perspectives of trafficking, positions on prostitution, a desire to highlight certain issues and so on. Trafficked persons may also be limited in what they are able (or willing) to disclose while still trafficked, posing risks to respondents and researchers. Others may not recognise that they have been trafficked. Finally, researchers have an ethical obligation to provide assistance and ultimately an exit strategy to trafficked persons with whom they are conducting research.

Researching in the return process. Respondents may be accessed after trafficking ends but prior to or during their return home – for example, while detained, awaiting or following deportation, preparing to or testifying against traffickers or following deportation. Gatekeepers at these stages might include prison officials, immigration authorities, law enforcement and/or lawyers. However, such settings (as well as the stress and anxiety generally experienced in the period after exit from trafficking) are not necessarily conducive to full and comfortable disclosure. Moreover, some respondents may not feel able to decline to be interviewed or may hope that participation will lead to a more positive outcome – for example, some assistance or reprieve in the deportation process. Here too there are ethical obligations for researchers in terms of providing information about assistance options abroad and/or at home.

Researching after trafficking. Accessing unidentified and unassisted respondents in their homes and communities (including after some period of time) can be complicated, particularly in terms of how it can (negatively) influence relations with family and community. There is, for example, the risk of “outing” people as trafficked to their families and communities, which can have serious implications in situations where discrimination and stigma of trafficked persons is commonplace. This type of sampling may be more viable in others settings (for example, where stigma related to prostitution is less and ⁄ or socially manageable) or for other forms of trafficking (for example, less stigmatised forms of exploitation like labour). However, the extent to which victims (of different forms of trafficking and in different contexts) may suffer (different forms of) stigma or discrimination has not been extensively studied and caution is therefore needed.

Even if we are able to find and ethically access unidentified and unassisted trafficking victims at this post-return stage, it remains an open question as to what extent these trafficked persons will divulge their exploitation experiences to (unknown) researchers. Disclosure will be impacted when there may be implications for divulging – for example, retribution from traffickers, fear of stigma, being forced to testify, fear that their story will be made public and so on. Equally, disclosure may increase when there are (at least perceived) benefits to divulging – for example, payment for participation, referral for services, helping others from suffering in the future and a chance to talk about their difficult experience. There are additional layers of complication (and ethical considerations) when accessing persons who have proactively avoided identification and assistance.

Why research with unidentified and unassisted victims matters

Understanding trafficking through the lens of unidentified and unassisted trafficked persons often provides a different picture than is commonly presented in trafficking research and discourse. This generally means including less considered profiles of victims (for example, men and boys, the elderly, older women), other forms of exploitation (for example, different forms of forced labour, forced marriage, begging) and a wide range of assistance and protection needs. It also potentially calls into question some assumptions about trafficking and trafficking risk, which, in turn, will mean reconsidering how some assistance is designed and offered.

Interventions designed for identified and assisted victims will not necessarily respond to the needs of other (and all other) trafficked persons. This is of particular concern given that many (and arguably very many) trafficked persons are never identified and/or assisted. Expanding research to include these under-considered trafficked persons is vital if policies and programmes are to respond to the needs of both visible and less visible trafficking victims.

Moving beyond the heavy reliance on research solely with assisted victims has real life implications for unidentified and unassisted trafficked persons and their families. Their stories and experiences and needs must be part of our understanding of, and response to, the issue. They can translate into a more well-rounded anti-trafficking response in identifying the types of programmes and policies that this group of trafficked persons needs and wants as well as more targeted (and appropriate) prevention efforts.

This post is adapted from “Another side of the story. Challenges in research with unidentified and unassisted trafficking victims”, In Sallie Yea and Pattana Kitiarsa (Eds) Human Trafficking in Asia: Forcing Issues and Framing Agendas. London: Routledge, prepared in the context of the NEXUS/IOM project: Taking stock and moving forward. Considering methods, ethics and approaches in trafficking research and data collection, funded by U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP).