Human Trafficking Thematic Research Series

Better Analysis, Better Programs: Evidence-Based Interventions in Combating Human Trafficking

Implementing Agencies: NEXUS Institute and IOM

Geographic Scope: Global (with specific studies conducted in Cambodia, South Africa, Belarus and Ukraine)

Years: 2008-2014

Project Summary: For victims to be protected, traffickers to be prosecuted and trafficking to be prevented, an understanding of the phenomenon of trafficking, in all its forms and complexity, is needed. Yet obtaining reliable data on human trafficking at the local, national and global level is inherently complex. This research project, conducted jointly by NEXUS Institute and IOM, aimed to improve the current knowledge base on human trafficking by conducting and expanding on-going data collection within the IOM victim assistance framework and, at the same time, conducting empirical research on various thematic topics, with the IOM victim assistance database as one source of information. The research series also sought to explore methodological and ethical considerations in anti-trafficking research.

The project was generously funded by the United States Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP).

Project Publications and Studies: There are a number of publications in this research series as detailed below. In addition, there are a number of blog posts derived from the various studies.


Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 2.11.13 PMIn African waters. The trafficking of Cambodian fishers in South Africa (2014)


Executive Summary (available in Khmer)

This study discusses the trafficking of men in the fishing industry. It focuses on Cambodian men severely exploited in South African waters. Through extensive interviews, NEXUS reveals the stories of how the men were recruited and transported as well as their trafficking experiences at sea. The study also discusses how these trafficked fishers were (or, more commonly, were not) identified as trafficking victims and what assistance they did (or did not) receive when they escaped and returned home to Cambodia and sought to reintegrate into their families and communities.


Human Trafficking in AsiaAnother side of the story. Challenges in research with unidentified and unassisted trafficking victims. In Human Trafficking in Asia (2014)

Research about human trafficking is most often based nearly exclusively on data from victims of trafficking who have been identified and assisted by anti-trafficking organizations . While this approach to research has many strengths and benefits, it also presents an incomplete picture of human trafficking. And, as a result, our understanding of trafficking is necessarily constrained and this has implications for the identification and implementation of solutions to address it. In Another side of the story. Challenges in research with unidentified and unassisted victims, we discuss some of the issues associated with the heavy reliance on assisted victims in trafficking research, as well as possible avenues for sampling unidentified and/or unassisted trafficking victims. We explore how to expand understanding by including trafficked persons who are not identified and/or assisted. In doing so, we address the methodological and ethical issues this involves. Expanding research as recommended here will better serve to respond to the needs of both visible and less visible trafficking victims. A blog post drawing from this publication is available here.


Global Human TraffickingAt sea. The trafficking of seafarers and fishers from Ukraine. In Global human trafficking. Critical issues and contexts (2014)

This book chapter explores the issue of trafficking at sea. In this chapter, NEXUS shares the experiences of forty-six trafficked Ukrainian seafarers and fishers. It describes how Ukrainian men were recruited, transported and severely exploited, as well as their experiences of escape from trafficking and their subsequent reintegration into their families and societies. In considering limitations in the identification of and assistance to the trafficked Ukrainian seafarers/fishers, the chapter outlines key challenges in the protection of trafficked seafarers and fishers and intervention needs and opportunities in combating trafficking at sea. While highlighting the specific and unique aspects of the Ukrainian experience, the chapter will also be of interest to those considering forced labor on board seagoing vessels more generally that is occurring around the world.


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Traffickers and trafficking. Challenges in researching human traffickers and trafficking operations (2014)


This paper discusses research on human traffickers (i.e. perpetrators of the crime of human trafficking) and how a clearer picture of how traffickers operate can be used in the development of criminal justice and social welfare responses to human trafficking. This study discusses some of the difficulties or limitations involved in understanding traffickers and trafficking operations through the lens of trafficked persons and their individual trafficking experiences and what that means for the development of policies, strategies and interventions in combating human trafficking. A blog post drawing from this publication is available here.


Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 4.27.59 PMTrapped at Sea. Using the Legal and Regulatory Framework to Prevent and Combat the Trafficking of Seafarers and Fishers (2013)

In this article, NEXUS frames what constitutes trafficking at sea, both in the commercial fishing sector and in the merchant fleet and presents the legal and regulatory framework to combat trafficking at sea – namely, international anti-trafficking law, international maritime law and the international law of the sea. The article considers the “three P paradigm” of anti-trafficking (that is, prevention, protection and prosecution) and how improved policies, regulation, legislation and enforcement have the potential to contribute to an improved situation for seafarers and fishers—to both prevent and combat trafficking in commercial fishing and the merchant fleet. A blog post drawing from this publication is available here.


UntitledTrafficked at sea. The exploitation of Ukrainian seafarers and fishers (2012)


Trafficking for forced labor, including trafficking for labor in the merchant shipping and fishing industries, has been increasingly recognized as a major form of human trafficking. Reported cases signals that there are aspects of the commercial fishing and seafaring sectors which may lend themselves particularly to trafficking abuses. This paper explores and discusses the experiences of trafficked Ukrainian seafarers and fishers in order that anti-trafficking policies and programs can take into account their experiences and needs. While the stories of these trafficked Ukrainian seafarers and fishers highlight some unique experiences, many of the issues raised in this report have wider application to incidences of trafficking at sea around the world.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 7.29.21 PMBeneath the surface. Methodological issues in trafficking research (2010)

This report focuses on approaches to collecting data about human trafficking that underlie a large segment of research produced since the UN Protocol and, in doing so, reveals some of the key reasons that research generally has not provided a clearer path to more effective action for policymakers and practitioners. It examines how current approaches to the collection and use of data about human trafficking, while helpful for certain purposes, fall short of what will be needed to achieve a new generation of higher quality research and analysis capable of helping to produce transformative results in addressing human trafficking. The report outlines challenges that must be understood for research findings to be used effectively and appropriately, centering around the following four themes: (1) A global approach? Data quality and comparability across different terrains; (2) Who is collecting data? The role of researchers and service providers; (3) Being representative? Challenges in obtaining representative samples of trafficking victims; and (4) What questions are asked and why? Assumptions, biases and agendas in trafficking research and data collection. In exploring these topics, the report outlines some of the methodological issues which arise when collecting data about assisted trafficking victims (and their trafficking experiences) through service providers and in the context of anti-trafficking assistance programs. The report draws upon one particular research and data collection approach – the IOM human trafficking database – as a means by which to discuss current data collection and research efforts and, equally, as a lens to draw some lessons and suggestions for stronger future research and data collection initiatives.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.33.18 PMTrafficking in Men, a Trend Less Considered: The Case of Belarus and Ukraine (2008)

Men are often overlooked in discussions of human trafficking and those who are targeted by trafficking enterprises. Reflecting this bias, trafficking in males has been under-considered in research. This despite noteworthy signals that many males, adult and minors, are subjected to trafficking exploitation. Often these severely exploited male victims, especially in the context of migration, are overlooked, with women and girls identified more commonly as victims of trafficking. This deficiency in identifying and assisting males who have been victims of trafficking exploitation needs to be addressed. “Trafficking in persons” must be understood and addressed as affecting all victims: women and men, adults and minors. In Belarus and Ukraine, male victims accounted for 28.3 per cent and 17.6 per cent of the IOM-assisted caseload respectively between 2004 and 2006. Through the lens of trafficking in males (primarily adult men) from Belarus and Ukraine, this study considers male victims’ pre-trafficking life (namely their personal, family and socio-economic background), trafficking experience (from recruitment, through transportation and during exploitation) and post trafficking experience and needs. The report examines, on the one hand, what is known about this less-considered profile of trafficked persons and, on the other hand, what can be done to meet their needs, both as a means of assistance and protection. The study draws on primary data collected about 685 trafficked males assisted by IOM and its partners, through IOM’s Counter-Trafficking Module Database in Geneva as well as qualitative information from interviews with and case files of assisted men. The research findings should not be read as representative of the full scope of trafficking in either country; they are instead representative of trafficked males who have been identified and received assistance and not male trafficking victims generally.

Photograph by NASA. Some rights reserved.