Children and Families of Trafficking Victims in Moldova
Implementing Agencies: NEXUS Institute and Fafo
Geographic Scope: Moldova
Project Summary: The focus of this research project was the impact and implications of human trafficking for family members of trafficking victims from Moldova – children, spouses, parents and siblings. Research explored how the family members of female victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation were effected, and conversely, how the family environment affects the process of recovery from trafficking as well as the pressure that the family may add to a trafficked woman’s reintegration. Much of the literature on trafficking victims focuses on the individual victim – his or her background, trafficking experience and post-trafficking life. When the family is described it is often as part of a general pattern of vulnerability – for example, poverty, domestic violence, child abuse, alcohol abuse, single motherhood, and so on – as a trigger and contributor to vulnerability to trafficking. The families of trafficked persons thereby become invisible or reduced to “a factor” in a general picture of individual vulnerability pre-trafficking and a potentially complicating factor in the reintegration period. While the impact of human trafficking is most central for the primary victim, at the same time, family members – whether parents, siblings, children or spouses – can be profoundly effected by the trafficking of a family member. We also consider the impact of having a family in terms of being trafficked – what options it adds for assistance, what constraints it places on recovery. The role of family is intensely complex – often with both negative and positive impacts – and this project sought to identify and disentangle these complexities.
The research project was jointly conducted by NEXUS Institute and Fafo Institute for applied international studies within the framework of the Informal Child Migration in Europe Project, generously funded by the Norwegian Research Council.
Project Publications and Studies: This project resulted in one empirical study – Coming home: Challenges in family reintegration of trafficked women and one publication, which explored the various methodological and ethical issues that arise in trafficking research – Untold stories: Biases and selection effects in research with victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
This article presents findings regarding challenges in family reintegration for returning Moldovan trafficking victims based on qualitative interviews with 19 victims of trafficking and 31 service providers, looking specifically at points of tension in reuniting with children and spouses. One main source of conflict is when migration expectations are unrealized; another is stressed behaviors of victims when they return. To avoid being stigmatized and blamed for association with prostitution and failed migration, most victims prefer to keep their trafficking a secret. However, this means that families may not understand or appreciate what they are going through in the post-trafficking stage and misinterpret stress, anxiety and trauma symptoms as aggression and hostility. Further, two additional factors – financial problems and stigma – add extra strain on family relationships. In terms of assistance needs, it is crucial to include a perspective on the family situation when working with trafficking victims.
Recent discussions of trafficking research have included calls for more innovative studies and new methodologies in order to move beyond the current trafficking narrative, which is often based on unrepresentative samples and overly simplified images. While new methods can potentially play a role in expanding the knowledge base on trafficking, this article argues that the solution is not entirely about applying new methods, but is as much about using current methods to greater effect and with careful attention to their limitations and ethical constraints. Drawing on the authors’ experience in researching trafficking issues in a number of projects over the past decade, the article outlines and exemplifies some of the methodological and ethical issues to be considered and accommodated when conducting research with trafficked persons — including unrepresentative samples; access to respondents; selection biases by “gatekeepers” and self selection by potential respondents. Such considerations should inform not only how research is undertaken but also how this information is read and understood. Moreover, many of these considerations equally apply when considering the application of new methods within this field. The article maintains that a better understanding of how these issues come into play and inform trafficking research will translate into tools for conducting improved research in this field and, by implication, new perspectives on human trafficking.