Data, Research, Methods & Ethics

Quality and Rigor in TIP research in the Mekong Region: Assessing the Evidence Base (2019)

Our knowledge of and responses to TIP must be informed and driven by high quality evidence – that is, technically robust and ethically rigorous research and program data. Weak or inaccurate evidence has the potential to distort our understanding of TIP and our ability to effectively design, implement and evaluate CTIP interventions. This research review explores the nature and quality of TIP research in five Mekong countries (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam), identifying key issues and challenges and making concrete recommendations on how to improve future TIP research and data collection.



A Review of TIP Research in the Mekong Region (2008-2018) (2019)

NEXUS Institute conducted a review of TIP research from 2008 to 2018 in and from five of the countries in the Mekong region (Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam), to provide an overview of existing research and research and to inform the USAID Asia CTIP project. This brief summarizes the key findings of this TIP research review (Quality and Rigor in TIP Research in the Mekong Region: Assessing the Evidence Base and Exploring the Evidence: A Review of Research on TIP for Agriculture, Construction and Domestic Work in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam).



The Science (and Art) of Understanding Trafficking in Persons: Good Practice in TIP Data Collection (2019)

Available as a compressed pdf for mobile or slower Internet connection


This study identifies and explores good practice in TIP data collection in the areas of protection and prosecution, to inform and guide future anti-trafficking efforts. It begins by outlining what constitutes good practice in TIP data collection and the criteria to be considered in making this assessment (for example, data quality; relevance and usefulness; accessibility; timeliness; cost appropriateness; and attention to legal and ethical issues). The study then uses these criteria to examine current TIP data collection and research practices in different countries and regions, including the strengths and limitations of the various approaches. The study outlines five stages of TIP data collection – 1) design and planning; 2) data collection; 3) storage, maintenance and management; 4) analysis; and 5) use, presentation and dissemination – and explores the raft of issues that may arise at each of these stages as well as good practice examples at each particular stage. It draws on existing research and resources on TIP data collection, as well as the collective knowledge and experiences of TIP researchers, data collectors, TIP experts and trafficking victims globally to offer practical guidance, lessons and tools in how to implement TIP data collection efforts. The target audience of this publication is anti-trafficking professionals, organizations and institutions that are currently or are planning to collect TIP data.


On the Frontlines: Operationalizing Good Practice in TIP Data Collection (2019)

These guidelines, based on lessons from past and current TIP data collection efforts, are for frontline staff from governments, international organizations (IOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are engaged in TIP data collection. The guidelines are based on good practice and lessons from The Science (and Art) of Understanding Trafficking in Persons: Good Practice in TIP Data Collection and offer step-by-step guidance and checklists on how to conduct TIP data collection in a constructive and ethical way and in line with existing work and mandates.



Legal and Ethical Issues in Data Collection on Trafficking in Persons (2019)

Available as a compressed pdf for mobile or slower Internet connection


Executive Summary

Data collection on trafficking in persons (TIP) is an important part of anti-trafficking efforts, including for protection, prosecution and prevention purposes. There has been increased emphasis on gathering TIP data in recent years and, commensurately, growing awareness of the legal and ethical considerations associated with doing so. There are many legal and ethical complexities at play in how anti-trafficking researchers and professionals undertake TIP data collection. The legal and ethical frameworks relevant to TIP data collection differ by country, context and project and may also be informed by a range of other factors, including the type of data being collected, who is collecting data, where data collection takes place, who is funding data collection, whether data collection involves a group requiring special consideration, whether there are emerging issues affecting the existing legal and ethical framework and so on. This study explores the legal and ethical issues that arise when conducting TIP data collection, including the intersections and, at times, the tensions between the two. It examines legal and ethical issues in the context of traditional types of data collection, as well as emerging forms of TIP data collection. This study draws on concrete examples and experiences of those working in the field of TIP data collection from different countries globally to identify what issues and problems may arise, how these may be addressed, as well as the complex on-going discussion and debate around these issues, which remain largely unresolved. The intention of this study is to encourage discussion around these complicated issues, while acknowledging the grey zones in ethical and legal assessments of how TIP data is and should be collected and protected. This publication is intended for anti-trafficking actors engaged in TIP data collection across its varying forms and from different approaches, particularly prosecution and protection.


Good Practice in TIP Data Collection: Recommendations for Donors and Funders (2019)

These recommendations for donors and funders offer guidance on how to support TIP data collection before, during and after data collection takes place. They aim to maximize the positive contribution that donors and funders are already making to the field of TIP data collection.



ethical concerns book

Doing no harm. Ethical challenges in research with trafficked persons. In Ethical Concerns in Research on Human Trafficking (2016)

Central to any ethical research is the principle of “do no harm”, that when conducting research we do no harm to the persons we are researching and whose experiences we are seeking to explore and understand. This principle is especially critical when conducting research with persons in vulnerable situations, like trafficking victims. And yet avoiding harm is neither simple nor direct; there are many challenges and fault lines in terms of navigating this ethical space. This chapter discusses the different aspects of providing information about assistance to respondents when conducting research with trafficking victims, as a means of preventing and mitigating research harm. At the same time, we highlight the obstacles in identifying assistance options and offering referral information to respondents, both in terms of the actual existence of services and their appropriateness and desirability for respondents. Challenges include when services are unavailable, when services are available but inappropriate or undesirable, when services are inaccessible to trafficking victims due to their legal status and difficulties in accessing services because of personal and practical barriers.

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Preventing Human Trafficking: Positive Deviance Methodology in Practice (2015)

This paper, jointly authored by NEXUS Institute and Fafo, is intended as a resource for practitioners working in the field of trafficking prevention, as well as others who are considering implementing a positive deviance methodology or similar approach. We discuss our experiences in developing and implementing a positive deviance trafficking prevention project in a town in Albania. First we offer an overview of the positive deviance methodology; then we outline potential and previous uses of positive deviance in the trafficking field; next we provide a description of the pilot prevention project in Albania; and finally we explore some overarching issues and considerations in using positive deviance to prevent trafficking, highlighting both potential opportunities and limitations. We end with an annotated bibliography that offers a list of literature and resources on positive deviance methodology generally, as well as specifically in terms of its application in the field of human trafficking.

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Reframing Trafficking Prevention: Lessons from a “Positive Deviance” Approach (2015)

This study discusses our piloting of a project to prevent human trafficking utilizing the positive deviance approach. For this pilot project, NEXUS Institute and Fafo partnered with the Albanian anti-trafficking NGO Different and Equal (D&E), thereby bringing together both research and practice in collaboratively developing and implementing this project. Our interest in the positive deviance approach emerged from learning about its previous application in the prevention of trafficking of girls into the sex industry in Indonesia. Having conducted research on trafficking in many different countries and regions, one of our general observations over time has been that what works in one context may not be equally successful elsewhere. We were, therefore, interested to see if this approach (positive deviance) could potentially be used more broadly – in this case in another geographical, social and economic environment, as well as adapted to adult trafficking victims and victims of trafficking for labor as well as sexual exploitation.

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.

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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.

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Ethical principles in the re/integration of trafficked persons. Experiences from the Balkans (2013)

This paper articulates ethical principles that should guide and underpin reintegration programs and polices in the Balkans. It also explores some of the challenges organizations and institutions face in supporting the reintegration of trafficking victims and different strategies to manage and address such ethical issues. A blog post on ethical principles for reintegration work is available here.


Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 2.48.32 PMMeasuring the success of anti-trafficking interventions in the criminal justice sector. Who decides and how? (2012)

Global concern about human trafficking has prompted substantial investment in counter-trafficking interventions. That investment, and the human rights imperatives that underpin counter-trafficking work, demand that interventions demonstrate accountability, results and beneficial impact. How this can happen in practice is complicated and contested. This article, which considers success measurements with respect to criminal justice interventions, seeks to cut through the complexities presented by multiple theories and elaborate methodologies by focusing on one key issue: who decides success, and how? A review of evaluation reports and interviews with practitioners confirm that determinations of success (or failure) will vary according to: (i) who one consults and their role in the intervention; (ii) the criteria against which success is measured; and (iii) the assumptions that are built into that criteria. Each aspect is considered with reference to examples and insights drawn from recent practice. A major finding of the article is that the lack of an overarching vision of what ‘success’ might look like allows mediocre or even harmful interventions to flourish and good work to go unrecognized and unrewarded.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 7.21.58 PMAssessing the impact and effectiveness of anti-trafficking interventions in the criminal justice sector: a discussion paper on issues, obstacles and opportunities (2011)

Over the past decade, global concern about human trafficking has prompted massive investment into anti-trafficking interventions by intergovernmental organizations, states and civil society. While early interventions took place in a performance evaluation vacuum, there have been growing calls for greater transparency and accountability within the anti-trafficking sector, including through rigorous impact evaluation. Such calls are fully justified. The human rights imperatives that underpin anti- trafficking work and the significant investment of public resources demand that interventions demonstrate accountability, results and beneficial impact. However, in practice this is more complicated and there has been relatively little analysis of the practical issues and challenges that arise in efforts to evaluate anti-trafficking work. In the specialized area of criminal justice responses to trafficking, such analysis is virtually non-existent, despite the increasing attention and resources that are being directed to this aspect of the anti-trafficking response. Impact and effectiveness evaluation in the context of international development is both complicated and contested. Multiple theories and elaborate methodologies abound, and these can present a daunting impediment to those seeking practical guidance on the essential problem of determining “what works”. This paper seeks to cut through some of the complexities by focusing attention on several areas that are directly implicated in measuring anti-trafficking interventions in the criminal justice sector. It is the result of a comprehensive review of relevant literature and recent evaluation reports as well as interviews with key players in the field.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 7.34.42 PMThe State of Counter-Trafficking Research. Siren Report GMS 09 (2011)

On 21- 23 March 2011, UNIAP, IOM and NEXUS Institute came together to host a three-day interactive consultation to take stock of the state of counter-trafficking research. The event developed from the increased focus within the anti-trafficking research community on improved and empirically based anti-trafficking strategies and programs. The event also provided a platform for sharing, scrutinizing, and discussing methods and findings of key anti-human trafficking research by bringing together a group of experienced researchers, practitioners, and donors working on anti-trafficking within the Asia region and beyond. The event was divided into two sessions: the first included internal exchanges and discussions among anti-trafficking researchers, while the second involved dialogue between researchers, practitioners and donors. While donors and practitioners were supportive of anti-trafficking research and researchers in principle, all three groups differed in their ideas of research priorities, and answers to questions such as: ten years on, why do we all still lament a dearth of anti-trafficking research? After discussing differing perceptions of what is required to conduct rigorous anti-trafficking research, donors, practitioners, and researchers began discussing areas of consensus on gaps and priorities for anti-trafficking research. In general, all agreed on the importance of ensuring linkages between research and real-world priorities and programs. Specific research priorities, gaps, and needs to be addressed in the future are presented in this report.


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 7.30.36 PMUntold stories. Biases and selection effects in research with victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation (2010)

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.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 8.30.39 PMAnti-Trafficking Data Collection and Information Management in the European Union – A Handbook (2009)

This handbook is intended for the government institutions responsible for the collection, analysis and presentation of victim-centered data and trafficker-centered criminal justice data. It provides the practical tools needed to collect the two data sets and provides an overview of the victim-centered and the trafficker-centered criminal justice data sets – including the range of information to be collected; standardized methodologies and data collection processes; and common terminology for collecting this information from a wide range of data sources. The handbook also aims to equip national data repositories with some basic skills in the collection, analysis and presentation/dissemination of data sets, in accordance with legal, security and ethical parameters at a national and EU level. The handbook offers guidelines to be adapted at a national level in response to the national context and individual country’s needs.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.35.33 PMTraffickers and Trafficking in Southern and Eastern Europe: Considering the Other Side of Human Trafficking (2008)

This paper takes a look at the traffickers and trafficking enterprises. It describes patterns of trafficking from and within South Eastern Europe, with particular attention to traffickers and their activities. To date, research has primarily focused on victims of trafficking — who they are and what makes them vulnerable — in an effort to develop counter-trafficking interventions. To complement these studies of victims, studies of traffickers and their operations are also required. There is a need to address traffickers’ behavior. It will require more effective law enforcement and through legal, social and economic reforms to cause the criminals to reassess the economic benefits of perpetrating this crime. This study draws on data from interviews with trafficked persons to reveal insights about traffickers and trafficking operations   to aid in determining the most effective methods of tackling these grave crimes through a strategic use of the criminal justice system and supporting multi-pronged approach.


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.04.25 PMHandbook on Anti-Trafficking Data Collection in South-Eastern Europe: Developing Regional Criteria (2007)

This handbook is a practical tool to guide the implementation of victim-centered and trafficker-centered databases. This handbook was developed in the context of achieving regional criteria for countries in South East Europe. Part 1 outlines information relevant to this data collection project – particularly the objectives and framework of the work. Part 2 maps out the data collect methodology and relevant legal and ethical issues as well as reporting obligations. The handbook then (in parts 3 and 4) provides step-by-step guidance in terms of each type of database being implemented under the project, including a detailed description of each indicator. Part 5 discusses issues related to data quality and analysis, while part 6 provides resources on data collection as well as information about data collection initiatives in Europe by governments and international organizations. Part 7 provides the practical tools (i.e. MOUs, glossary, consent forms, confidentiality agreement and question templates) for the implementation of data collection according to the developed criteria.