Applying Research to End Human Trafficking

Applying Research to End Human Trafficking

Compreh[END] Campaign Series
 “Applying Research to End Human Trafficking” is the final post in The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking’s Compreh{END} Campaign blog series running through December 19th.  Today’s post from LCHT co-founder AnnJanette Alejano-Steele, LCHT’s Research and Training Director, looks closer at  research and survivorship while addressing the question “How do we know we’re making a difference in combatting human trafficking?” 

Applying Research to End Human Trafficking

For years, LCHT has noted the importance of research in guiding community response to combat human trafficking.  Our Colorado Project and the Colorado Action Plan are primary examples.  Similar research and evaluation principles apply to how we know we’re making a difference. Because of our history in the local anti-trafficking movement, we have been able to see an increase in the number of services (like housing) now available for survivors across the state through the CoNEHT Hotline directory. We have also witnessed the increase in number of councils, working groups and task forces in different parts of the state. Very simply, research and evaluation help to measure how far Colorado’s anti-trafficking movement has come since collaborations began to take shape with the support of federal dollars in 2005.

Colorado’s Anti-Trafficking Field Historical Timeline, adapted by CHTC from the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking’s Colorado Project. Click the image to view the full PDF.

LCHT’s nonprofit approach has been unique, in Colorado and globally, blending rigorous research design with survivor input and practitioner expertise: We seek ways to comprehensively address human trafficking, and leverage existing resources in our communities. And it starts in this way: survivors and practitioners guide us to the right questions to ask so that our researchers can help make sense of what we’re seeing and hearing on the ground.

The Most Important Voices

We believe that the most important voices in the movement are those of survivors. Their ideas and contributions need to be at the forefront of the creation and implementation of anti-trafficking initiatives. By merely growing the number of beds available, or utilizing existing systems such as foster care, we do nothing to ensure that the appropriate and desired housing options are being made available for victims of trafficking. Further, we understand that training for social service providers is absolutely necessary, but the only ways to ensure training is appropriate must move beyond “valuing” survivor voices, or inviting survivors to share a story of trauma. LCHT’s efforts are designed to empower survivors to share with professionals what has worked and what has failed.  Without knowing the true needs and priorities of human trafficking survivors, we cannot hope to provide community responses and services that are appropriate and accessible.

Did you catch our conversation on survivorship last week with LCHT Action Plan Manager, Mary Durant?

Matching Needs with Services

Services for human trafficking survivors will likely fail if they do not match the identified needs of survivors, but reflect what service providers assume survivors want or need. Survivor voices need to guide the research and design of these initiatives (American Psychological Association, 2014; Caliber, 2007; Clawson & Dutch, 2007; Pierce, 2009; Raphael & Ashley, 2008; Raymond & Hughes, 2001).

In recent years, we have seen the formation and refinement of survivor caucuses and task forces, and initiatives to inform policy. One example is the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST)’s survivor caucus report directed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) describing the real-life implications of the delayed issuance of Green Cards to T-Visa holders. The report resulted in new regulations issued by DHS to remedy the hardships experienced by victims of trafficking awaiting a Green Card (Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, 2015). In October 2016, the first annual report was issued by the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.

Read the Human Trafficking Report designed by survivors.

Read the Human Trafficking Report designed by survivors.

Survivor Engagement in Research

Providing input and guidance are certainly laudable efforts, however research teams comprised of survivors and researchers are necessary to continue building evidence for developmentally appropriate, culturally appropriate, and trauma-informed services for survivors of human trafficking. Lack of survivor engagement and leadership is a widespread limitation of research on human trafficking; this key point emerged from the 2014 U.S. Department of Justice Office of Victims of Crime Human Trafficking Survivor Forum and the 2014 National Institute of Justice’s Expert Working Group on Human Trafficking (Picarelli, 2015). Few survivor-led or co-authored studies have been published beyond scholarship that highlights the challenge of access to survivors as study participants (e.g., Godziak & Bump, 2008). Of the 16 empirical peer-reviewed articles reviewed by the American Psychological Association Task Force (2013), only two were led by a researcher-survivor (Pierce, 2012a, 2012b).

Building Replicable Evidence

For years, the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking has built bridges between survivors, practitioners and researchers by meaningfully involving survivors in knowledge-building and shaping local research. This critical mix of perspectives and lived experiences is inherent in why we are a laboratory. Since 2010, our research teams have honored this mix of perspectives, fields and sectors through the Colorado Project, its resulting Colorado Action Plan, and the associated monitoring and evaluation of the plan. Engaging the leadership of survivors allows us to better understand the strengths and limitations of the 4P framework (prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership) in addressing community response to human trafficking. LCHT’s broad goal is to build replicable evidence to promote meaningful researcher-survivor engagement in future projects, engaging key collaborators from academe and trauma fields.

LCHT’s well-established programs have informed our work with survivors over the years.  A few examples include:

  1. Mentoring over 125 interns through our Leadership Development program
  2. Providing phone support to survivors through the Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking Hotline
  3. Our collaborative role in Metropolitan State University’s Human Trafficking Academic Response Team

Because of these experiences, we understand the need for support, guidance, flexibility and patience required to partner survivors and researchers. Our organizational values underscore the importance of inclusivity and human rights, which influences how we engage partners, ensure our focus on both labor and sex trafficking, and provide support to teams to sustain anti-trafficking efforts. Our research teams work hard to carefully build truly collaborative teams, not only in goals but interpersonally and procedurally.  We value diverse perspectives on a level playing field, and prioritize self-care and trauma-informed sensitivities to sustain all collaborative efforts.

Moving the Needle

Since 2015, Action Plan monitoring and evaluation have been underway with the support of an actively engaged Advisory Group. Discussions between survivors and researchers are helping revise the comprehensive 4P framework that shapes the Colorado Project and its goals for replication in 2017. We will continue to actively involve collaborators into our laboratory space, and share our approaches. With the right support, we hope that our unique participatory action research methods will  move the needle forward in eradicating human trafficking in Colorado and beyond.

Annjanette Alejano-Steele, Ph.D.

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