Despite increasing interest in human trafficking and related exploitation, a great deal of anti-trafficking work still appears to be based on assumptions that are not well-proven or adequately questioned.
Policy formations, advocacy campaigns, concrete interventions and popular understandings of trafficking have all been accused of making exaggerated claims and resting on thin, if any, evidence. There is an almost obsessive desire to know the scale, proportion, size, major sectors and geographical concentrations of human trafficking, with far less attention paid to the actual experiences and circumstances of affected people. At the same time, the monitoring and evaluation of interventions is not robust enough to understand which ones are effective.
Issue 8 of the Anti-Trafficking Review explores the role of evidence, research and data in anti-trafficking work and how they influence our understanding of trafficking and responses to it. Seven thematic articles and four debates
examine the evidence that is used - or rejected - in the formation of national anti-trafficking policies, as well as the role of monitoring and evaluation and statistics.
Three authors show how even when evidence does exist, anti-trafficking policies can still be based on assumptions, morality, political agendas or external pressures.
In Northern Ireland, for example, research into the nature and extent of the sex industry was blatantly discarded in order to legislate for the 'Swedish model'. Socio-legal research in Canada could not find evidence to support some of the claims about human trafficking in the country that the government, media and NGOs make. And despite evidence of the effects of climate change and their impact on vulnerability to human trafficking in India, climate change remains marginal in anti-trafficking policies and discourses. The role of evidence is also explored in relation to border officers' duty to identify and refer potential victims of trafficking at London Heathrow airport. Another author examines the methodology of the Global Slavery Index and reflects on the increasingly business-like model of using indicators and metrics in philanthropy. Finally, two authors explore the role of monitoring and evaluation in anti-trafficking work, demonstrating how counting inputs and outputs has been prioritised over evaluating impact and outcomes, making it impossible to determine the success of anti-trafficking interventions.
In the debate section, four authors defend or reject the proposition 'Global Trafficking Prevalence Data Advances the Fight against Trafficking in Persons'.
Ultimately, this issue demonstrates that research, if designed, implemented and analysed properly, can produce the evidence necessary for better responses to trafficking and exploitation. At the same time we need to look more critically at the political and social factors that often lend an implicit bias to research and evidence.