DON’T Just DO Something!

As I read this online newspaper article, I was struck by the fact that although it tells us very little about human trafficking, and also reveals that despite our increased “awareness” of the problem many people couldn’t tell you what it actually is or how to actually go about being against it. This confirms my own experience as I discuss human trafficking with people here and everywhere. The quoted politician says he is against human trafficking and applauds increased awareness, but his true commitment is dubious since he said that he had no plans to actually submit a bill – but that may be due to the fact that he doesn’t have a clue what such a bill should include. I think awareness is good, and general ignorance can be remedied (so let’s hope he does his homework before introducing a bill)! It is not good to be content to take a stand about being against something (how many movie stars have you heard say that) in order to be cool or to get votes without really knowing anything about it. I hope that human trafficking has not become such a buzz word that it is thrown it around without people actually knowing what it is or taking the problem more seriously than a mere talking point in a stump speech.

What stems from not properly knowing about a topic that has such an emotional appeal is that many people feel the need (rightly so) to do something about it without actually knowing the best ways to to deal with the problem. Many interventions are based on a combination of our perspective of the problem coupled with what we are capable of doing. What results are often ill-informed interventions. do you realize that we can actually cause further harm to already traumatized people by our well-intentioned activities?

One example is that in order to “help” women from being trafficked, some governments have limited women’s legal ability to migrate. The result was that the women still migrated, but through illegal channels and thus much less safer, not to mention a violation of their human rights. Another example is of some men who want to play “cowboy” (perhaps they saw this in a movie somewhere) and go rescue girls in brothels without connecting to the local organizations or law enforcement. Bad idea. Been there. Seen it.

The United States government claims that progress is being made against human trafficking because they have increased their programs in victim services public education, employee training, as well as the use of technology and social media. OK, now show me where you have the evaluation and monitoring built into these programs to document their effectiveness. Unfortunately, their track record is not very good. In 2007 the Government Accountability Office reported that most of the projects funded by the USA have inadequate monitoring and evaluation. Not exactly the example of leading the fight against human trafficking that I want to see from the government that rates other countries.

However, are these interventions actually effective in decreasing human trafficking? Where are the baseline and follow up studies that demonstrate due diligence and good stewardship of our government spending? One report (found within this article) suggests that there are very few interventions actually demonstrate effectiveness, yet continue to rely on emotional heart strings of a series of anecdotes to get us to DO MORE NOW, whatever it is they want to do.

YES – there IS more awareness, and more effort and interventions. That is generally is a good thing and is worth celebrating. The number of victims identified has increased and the number of cases prosecuted has increased, but that is not the same thing as saying the incidence of human trafficking has gone down. In fact, we really have no idea what the incidence actually is. It may actually seem that human trafficking is getting worse in light of the increase of identification, but we can’t draw that conclusion either.

Another problem is that the data that does exist tends to skew the data that is probably not representative of the entire problem. Most studies, (and most media reports, and most movies, etc) are about the sex trade and specifically about girls and women exploited in the sex trade. But nobody really seems interested in boys, or labor trafficking in general,  who makes up a significant percentage of victims, depending on the region. What the average person sees in the media is what the average person knows about human trafficking and therefore influences our actions. This Huffington Post article outlines some good points regarding the biases we may encounter.

As a physician, I’ve been trained to base my investigations and treatments on evidence. This evidence, however, involves time, resources, and cooperation in order to produce valid results. It is time that some people don’t want to take, but it is time we can’t afford to NOT to take. I’m familiar with the process of building evaluation and monitoring into my interventions as well as helping those organizations with whom I collaborate to develop evaluation and monitoring into their own programs.

Trafficking in persons is a most heinous crime and deserves our focused attention. It is a crime that pulls at our emotions and tugs at our inner beings as humans and we want to be active to do something about it. Understandable. But because so much is at stake when we make interventions it becomes that much more imperative that those interventions are truly going to help those we aim to serve.

What I want you to be aware of today is:

  • That many interventions being made today (even by well-known organizations) are not based on evidence or guided by best practices.
  • That some interventions can actually cause further harm to an already traumatized victim, which makes researching and evaluating our projects urgent and imperative.
  • Of the organizations that you support, inquire about how they define success. What are their goals? On what information are they basing their interventions?
  • Regarding awareness campaigns: Of what are they actually hoping to accomplish? Who is their audience and what is the message they want you to be aware of and what do they want you do regarding this new awareness?
  • That you need to insist on your donors and projects to which to donate to implement evaluation and monitoring components into their grants and programs.
  • Getting involved is a GOOD thing to do, and I don’t want to discourage you. But please remember that at the very heart of this issue are hurting sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers.

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7 thoughts on “DON’T Just DO Something!

  1. Can you give some concrete examples of how uninformed interventions have made things worse or caused harm to traumatized victims? How can I as a layperson know what are some of the ‘best practices’ in the arena of human trafficking interventions, so that I can consider these when evaluating an organization or considering supporting them? Sounds great, but how do I do it?

      • Actually, Karen, Kristof and this book are full of examples of what NOT to do! I should probably write a blog post just about why this is true.

      • Sorry, I should’ve clarified… I was answering Amy’s first question about examples of interventions that have made things worse for victims.

      • Yeah, Kristof shows in his book and other antics (like tweeting through a brothel raid) how he himself an example of what NOT to do.

  2. Amy, you ask good questions and therefore are more than qualified to become my research assistant to help me answer them! Thank you! The questions you ask are worthy of an entire book, not a blog post, so I will need your help. 🙂

  3. Pingback: The “Upstream” Work of Prevention | Relentless

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