Human Trafficking Blog

Evaluate and Replicate: How Colorado Anti-Trafficking Can Advance Promising Practices

The Colorado Project 2.0 Blog series is taking a closer look at some of the findings from our most recent human trafficking research at LCHT. Today’s post from Dr. Annie Miller highlights the need for more comprehensive evaluation of current anti-trafficking efforts in order to inform future actions. You can learn more about Colorado Project 2.0 here.

My name is Annie Miller, and I had the privilege of helping lead our most recent community-based research with the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking: Colorado Project 2.0. While our recent work revealed that Colorado communities have become more organized and prepared to respond to human trafficking, we know there is so much more to do. One thing is clear: the anti-trafficking movement needs to develop a deeper commitment to evaluation in order to achieve practices that effectively eliminate human exploitation.

As we’ve been sharing about our Colorado Project 2.0 findings across the state, community members and partners often ask why collecting data is central to our findings. When we consider this question, we tend to use language about moving the needle to end human trafficking. How would we ever know if all our efforts are making a difference? What if the work we are doing just changes how traffickers respond and new vulnerabilities arise in the place of those we address? These are important questions and we can continue to answer them through effective data collection methods.

What if the work we are doing just changes how traffickers respond and new vulnerabilities arise in the place of those we address? These are important questions and we can continue to answer them through effective data collection methods

Total case filings related to Colorado’s human trafficking laws have increased in recent years. But do we really have the data collection practices in place to understand why?

How Data Can Help Answer Key Questions About Anti-Trafficking

Let’s consider an additional illustration about why measurement and evaluation are so essential to anti-trafficking. Here are a few steps suggesting one potential avenue for decreasing human trafficking in Colorado:

  1. Work to raise awareness about human trafficking to both professional and general public communities.
  2. Through raised awareness, the public will be more likely to make calls to the human trafficking hotline or report to local law enforcement.
  3. Law enforcement and professionals who work with vulnerable populations will be prepared to support individuals to leave the trafficking situation.
  4. Once individuals have exited their exploitation, they are free to press charges and participate in criminal proceedings against traffickers.
  5. The criminal justice system is prepared to try and convict human trafficking cases.
  6. More perpetrators are sentenced thus reducing the prevalence of trafficking occurring in the state.

This progression seems desirable, and you might think it’s already happening based on the increase in trafficking cases in the Colorado judicial system since 2014. In reality, though, we do not have any data or evaluative evidence to suggest that this series of steps is the how we arrived at more case filings.

Some might suggest that raising awareness will not necessarily lead to community members reporting trafficking as described in step 2. Others might argue that step 4 does not happen in reality; many survivors simply have no interest in prosecution as part of their healing process. Or perhaps not all parts of the state’s criminal justice system are really equipped to prosecute trafficking cases as stated in step 5.

There are many other possible explanations. But without effectively collecting data points at each possible step in this chain, we ultimately have no idea if it is a promising method for intervention. For all of those reasons, we argue that collecting high quality, publicly-available data is essential to the movement to end trafficking. 

Meaningful Anti-Trafficking Evaluation in Colorado Communities

During the data collection process for Colorado Project 2.0, our focus group methodology revealed that partnerships to combat trafficking in Colorado are largely not collecting data on their joint efforts. Individual organizations are simply not likely to collect data or share it with partners when they do. One initial opportunity would be for partnerships to develop a handful of metrics that they believe are meaningful to their community-based anti-trafficking efforts, and to begin to collect and share data on them.

Get Trained on Human Trafficking

Additionally it would be helpful to have a metric for each of the 4Ps (prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership). This data collection could be simple at the start – a community partnership could track how many community members and professionals attend local anti-trafficking trainings or events. Over time, they could move toward conducting a follow-up system where those who attended the training are asked what they remember and what they would do if they witnessed trafficking. This basic build-up of an evaluation process in multiple Colorado communities would significantly contribute towards smarter investment in promising practices over time.

The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking looks forward to supporting local efforts to strengthen the anti-trafficking movement. Together we can end human trafficking.

Dr. Annie Miller is a faculty member in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. She was a principal investigator on Colorado Project 2.0 and has served on the Board of Directors with the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking since 2017.
LCHT’s Action Plan 2.0 revealed that the anti-trafficking movement in Colorado needs more evaluation of promising practices.