Data and research challenges hamper anti-trafficking efforts, witnesses say – MeriTalk

Lack of data – as well as difficulties in data collection – are significant obstacles to efforts to combat human trafficking, both nationally and internationally, witnesses said during a hearing on February 8 at the members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Research and technology play a crucial role in the fight against human trafficking. the 2019 Report of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons states that technology helps to combat trafficking by facilitating investigations, improving prosecutions, raising awareness, providing services to victims and shedding light on the composition and functioning of trafficking networks.

However, the lack of solid research and data hampers any effort to combat human trafficking globally. For example, outdated data and the need to rely on estimates are still used to infer the current status of the trafficking problem. And according to Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., a senior member of the committee, the lack of up-to-date and accurate data makes it difficult to understand the full extent of the problem.

Lack of solid research

According to Dr. Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University, a missing but crucial facet of the fight against human trafficking is solid research that provides an accurate understanding of the problem.

However, researchers lack large-scale microdata sources on human trafficking, which limits their ability to measure the magnitude of the problem. There are a handful of studies applying quantitative data to trafficking research. However, there is no formal research using quantitative data to investigate causal factors, prevention or reintegration programs.

Standardizing data and improving data collection can improve and provide a basis for more and better analysis of human trafficking research – and ultimately better outcomes for survivors.

According to Hannah Darnton, associate director of Tech Against Trafficking, the main areas requiring research on human trafficking are: prevention of trafficking and demand reduction, measuring the prevalence of trafficking; establish measures of success for ongoing anti-trafficking efforts; and understanding the long-term and short-term needs of victims and survivors.

“However, in each of these areas, research and data challenges remain,” Darnton said.

“Without rigorous research, the policy response to trafficking has been uncoordinated and has had limited success on a large scale,” said Theresa Harris, acting director of the Scientific Accountability, Human Rights Program. and law from the American Association for the Advancement of Reliable Science. “Current estimates have been difficult to establish, and increased support for funding research and data collection is needed.”

GAO Report: Difficulties in Obtaining Reliable Data

There is no reliable estimate of the number of victims of human trafficking in the United States.

According to Dr Gretta Goodwin, Director of Homeland Security and Justice at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the hidden nature of crime, identity issues, gaps in data accuracy and barriers to data sharing often hamper the quality and quantity of data. .

Formulating comprehensive national data on human trafficking is even more difficult because combining federal databases is not currently possible.

“Federal databases do not contain complete national data due to differences in the characteristics of these databases, including their purposes, specific content, organization and any applicable legal restrictions, and therefore cannot be combined to provide complete information,” Goodwin said.

In a recent report, the GAO reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken some steps to analyze data from federal databases regarding this issue, including releasing more detailed case statistics. However, at the time of the GAO report, data analysis efforts were in their early stages and the department had no plan to continue these efforts past November 2021.

“Developing such a plan could provide the GM and other stakeholders with information to better understand the nature of this problem,” Goodwin said.

Additionally, Goodwin indicated that an effective framework or structure for capturing and reporting data can help ensure that an agency provides useful, accurate, and transparent data to the public regarding human trafficking.

“It provides a basis for policy makers to make informed decisions,” Goodwin said.

The GAO report also found that data from some federal agencies on the use of virtual currency in human and drug trafficking may not be captured consistently. As a result, agencies may lack comprehensive data when assessing or reporting the illicit use of virtual currency in human and drug trafficking.

Virtual currency is increasingly being used illicitly to facilitate human and drug trafficking. The number of suspicious activity reports filed with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network that involve virtual currency and drug trafficking has increased significantly, from 252 in 2017 to 1,432 in 2020.

“The GAO has made several recommendations about steps agencies can take to address these data collection issues. And agencies have taken action to address these recommendations and GAO is monitoring these ongoing efforts,” Goodwin said.

Sean N. Ayres