(ES) Second Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Trafficking

I attended this conference, which was sponsored by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and took place September 30th — October 2nd. It was remarkable to see such a diverse group of people (from NGOs, the government, academia, etc.) put their collective energies together to address this crime. Below are some notes from the conference. They are not comprehensive and any errors of interpretation are mine. Items in square brackets ([ ]) are interpolations or assumptions.

Conference Opening Keynote Speech
E. Benjamin Skinner

Ben Skinner, the author of A Crime so Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery, was the keynote speaker. He discussed what we know and what we don’t know about human trafficking.

He began by stating that Kevin Bales (the “godfather” of the modern anti-slavery movement) estimates that there are 27 million people currently being held in slavery in one form or another. There are three characteristics defining these people: 1) they were forced into their situation, 2) they are being held through fraud and 3) they cannot leave their situation. He found many people that were being exploited, but who could walk away from their situation; these people did not count as being held in slavery. Also, he stated that while it should be axiomatic that children involved in commercial sex automatically be considered slaves, this isn’t the case in all parts of the world. He asked: What can we do to push this shift of understanding?

As an example, Skinner described the case of Elizabeth from South Africa, who was being held for sexual exploitation. A policewoman was found to help her, but no comprehensive law [under which her captors could be prosecuted] existed. A social worker tried to help, but determined that since Elizabeth “went freely” with her traffickers, there was no trafficking involved. (Another social worker then became involved in Elizabeth’s case.) This example illustrates the importance of definitions. [For example, using a self-serving definition], South Africa claimed there was no trafficking during the World Cup.

There are some successes, though:

We can thank Hollywood, Skinner says, for some of these successes, although the images they portray can be inaccurate. The movie Taken, for example, shows a demographic that does not apply to most victims.

- People do consider slavery important, according to poll data.

- 45 states have laws against trafficking.

- 100 laws worldwide have been passed since the U.S. signed theirs around 2000.

- 136 countries are signatory to the Palermo Protocol, thanks to the efforts of Ambassador CdeBaca [the Ambassador-at-Large of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons].

- There is an effort to focus on the safety of victims, since prosecution can’t take place at the expense of the victims.

- Nebraska Senator Johanns co-sponsored a trafficking bill last week. The right legislation is good but funding is also important. [Nebraska] Senator [Ben] Nelson is more vocal but hasn’t sponsored legislation. He calls trafficking the “scourge of the earth” but conflates it with human smuggling. Skinner pointed out that smuggling is a crime against the state, while trafficking is a crime against humanity.

However, there is still room for improvement. The largest is that anti-trafficking is grossly underfunded:

- In 2008, $99 million was spent on domestic and international trafficking. This is about 6% of what the U.S. spent on protecting endangered species.

- The amount of money used to fight drugs is much more than that used to fight trafficking. So which is worse: drug use or a 15 year old sold for “rape and destruction”?

How is the problem best addressed?:

Creative ideas

- The approach to debt bondage has been lackluster. There has been no funding or creativity as there has been in solving agricultural problems. The laws in place are good, but the topic is not at top of the list, so our government needs to hear that slavery is an important issue to us.

- A bill concerning supply-chain slavery in the chocolate industry was signed into law in California. There is concern about its enforceability, but it is a step in the right direction. It all comes down to corporate responsibility and customer involvement.


- Research is critical to increasing understanding. There have been statements made that there are “14,000 –17,000” people being held in slavery in the U.S., but this isunconfirmed. Research always takes the last place in funding. And research is difficult. For example, to obtain a comprehensive measure of the number of people abducted in Southern Sudan, researchers had to go out by bicycle to speak to citizens and determine one-by-one the number of people abducted. They found that 12,000 people had been taken. This type of work should be done elsewhere.


- As Ambassador CdeBaca says: We can’t prosecute our way out of this problem. The Palermo Protocol requires prosecution and recommends protection, but only pays lip service to prevention.

From Pseudoscience to Protoscience: Estimating Human Trafficking and Modern Forms of Slavery
Amanda Gould
University of Denver

Ms. Gould spoke about some of the methodological problems involved in estimating the number of people being held in slavery. She said that using an estimate is not bad in and of itself, but that the methodology used to obtain the estimate [needs to be and can be] solid.

The accuracy of statistics is important when considering funding. For example, funding would differ greatly if it were estimated that 100,000 people were being held in slavery as opposed to a million.

An accurate estimation of the number of people being held in slavery is hindered for four reasons:

1) Definition–is all prostitution to be considered slavery [as some have suggested]?
2) The crime is hidden
3) There are ethical concerns
4) There is a misunderstanding of stats

Kevin Bales estimates that there are 27 million people being held in slavery in over 100 countries. Gould discussed some of the problems associated with this estimate:

1) Bales himself states that this is a rough estimate, that his methodology was pragmatic and that there are some countries missing from the estimate.

2) In part, he obtained his numbers from experts. But who were the experts? We are not told how many there were or their affiliation (e.g., government officials may have a vested interest in the numbers they give out).

3) The measure is up to 15 years out of date.

4) His study is not replicable.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), on the other hand, estimates that there are 12.3 million people in forced labor. They used Conventions 29 and 105 for their definition of trafficking.

Gould went on to discuss the ILO methodology in more detail:

- Two teams of six people performed the research.
- The teams worked independently.
- The estimates included reported cases.
- The date range of the estimate was from 1995-2004.
- The estimate included the number of victims in slavery at any one time.

She went on to discuss some of the problems with this methodology:

- The probabilities of capture are not equal for all cases.

- The study used non-typical standard deviation. While their report states that there are about 12 million people being held, the number should really be given as a range of two standard deviations.

Gould feels personally more comfortable with a number closer to 27 million than 12 million.

Ms. Gould gave another, related lecture, later in the conference, points from which are included here:

Modern Slavery and Region: A Quantitative Analysis
Amanda Gould
University of Denver

Gould stated that Bales’ model (as discussed in Global Slavery: A Reader) used several predictive variables but that they were too few in number and that they exhibited a Western bias, which therefore influenced his predictions.

She said she reran Bales’ model but changed some of the variables. She determined that infant mortality was the greatest predictor of slavery, but that even that was not a very good predictor.

She then decided to add regions to the model and determined that the prediction of the incidence of slavery at the regional level was different from the prediction of slavery at the international level. She felt that an analysis of this variable warrants additional investigation and that a regional understanding of slavery is key.

[In the Q&A after one of these talks, Gould was asked whether Kevin Bales was aware of her work. She said that he was and that he is supportive of it.]

The Limitation of Laws: Survey of State Laws Relating to Human Trafficking and Prostitution
Al Riskowski and Calli Cain
Nebraska Family Council

Their organization (which Riskowski admitted has a religious bent) performed a survey of state laws of both trafficking and prostitution. He went on to discuss the limitations of these laws. He stated that while the laws do indeed focus on the victims, these victims are difficult to identify.

He stated that prostitution is a carrier of human trafficking. He said that many women who enter into prostitution end up being trafficked. He mentioned the importance of educating the police about how to determine whether or not a woman is willingly engaging in prostitution.

He suggests that escort services be licensed and that pornography is another conduit for trafficking.

Cain said that it is important to press politicians to take action.

Copies of their surveys were made available. [And Ninlil can provide a copy upon request.]

A Marketing Analysis of Human Trafficking Systems
Dr. Dwayne Ball
University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Dr. Julie Pennington
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

Dr. Ronald Hampton
University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Anh Nguyen
International Organization for Migration, Kiev, Ukraine

Dr. Bell et al discussed trafficking from a marketing analysis perspective.

He used the system of cocoa production as an example. It comprises several “nodes” (production, transport, etc.). He discussed the importance of disrupting as many nodes as possible since if only one or a few nodes were disrupted the system would “flex.” That is, the action of a single disrupted node could be taken over by a node in another another system. For example, if only the normal transportation node were disrupted, “flex” could take place (that is, transportation from an alternate system would take its place). But if both the normal transportation node and a component of the means of production were disrupted, this “flex” would be more difficult to achieve.

Ball went on to discuss the idea of “winners” and “losers” in systems sucn as these. He spoke about a stable system of electronics production and distribution. Here, there is a producer, transporter, consumer, etc. and everyone gets what they want and so are “winners”. A powerful “loser” can disrupt the system. [For example, a truck strike could wreak havoc on the whole system. Transportation is one of the nodes. Ideally many nodes would be disrupted at once.]

[As a simple suggestion,] since there is actually very little savings using children, if prices of cocoa were raised by only 3%, this would raise $1 billion. [If some of this were channeled to increasing the pay of police,] this could lead to corruption-free police and good publicity. So this situation makes everyone a winner.

Government Panel: Officers from U.S. government agencies discuss their work and their funding interests
John Picarelli
National Institute of Justice, Department of Justice

Amy O’Neil Richard
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Department of State

Linda K. Daniels
Defense Human Resources Activity, Department of Defense

Heath Simon
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security

Veronica Zeitlin
U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of State

Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Amy O’Neill Richard stated that her office in the U.S. State Department, led by Ambassador CdeBaca, advances the “3P” paradigm [prevention, protection and prosecution]. She said that they work with other countries (over 177) and have supported over 100 projects. They typically fund projects in Tier 3 and Tier 2 Watchlist countries, although they have funded projects in some Tier 2 countries. They are an interagency organization and provide support for victim assistance coordinators, victim support, reports and public engagement. They also support research and seek evidence-based, peer-reviewed, “smart” research. The results of their supported research is published at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij. She says that they are searching for consultants and peer reviewers. The funding they sponsor is also posted on their website.

Defense Human Resources Activity
Linda K. Daniels from the Department of Defense spoke also. She said that their prevention program, which began in 2002, is designed to teach troops to report [potential incidents of trafficking].

Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Heath Simon spoke next. He stated that The Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center is staffed by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General’s office. They are involved in anti-smuggling, anti-trafficking and anti-terrorist activities and work with international agencies, providing support services rather than direct involvement in operations.

Additionally, they…

…combine data from other agencies

…are involved in several types of visas, including the T visa (for survivors of trafficking).

They created the “Blue” campaign [which is ”...a DHS-wide initiative to combat human trafficking through enhanced public awareness, victim assistance programs, and law enforcement training and initiatives,” according to the DHS website].

US Agency for International Development
Veronica Zeitlin stated that the mission of USAID is to implement foreign policy, so they address trafficking as a development issue. Since their focus is on development, this puts them most closely in touch with labor trafficking.

They try to implement evidence-based practices and strive to make their work rigorous.

They form partnerships with private corporations.

They focus on technology and are working on a technical project with Microsoft and Cisco.

Hope and Light: A View Through the Lens of Human Trafficking Victims
Abigail B. Mortenson
Colorado State University

Ms. Mortenson discussed several topics, but most intriguing perhaps was the idea of using PhotoVoice, a concept that would allow survivors of trafficking to tell their own stories. This is similar to the method used in the movie Born into Brothels, in which girls were given cameras and asked to document their lives. One of the aspects of this technique is that the women tell their stories, rather than outsiders interpreting the stories for the world. She mentioned the work of Dorothea Lange as another example of this approach. Mortenson suggested that these photos could be put into a show and seen by policy makers.

She also discussed a study of giving in which donors were a) shown statistics only, b) were told a story about a trafficking victim or c) were shown the statistics and told the story. Interestingly, people in the second group (those who were only told the story) donated more than those in the other groups. This draws attention to the need to personalize trafficking.

Mortenson went on to discuss the notion of victimization and noted that females are typically criminalized for their activities while males are not. She said women may be placed in detention and that their [psychological and physical] needs may not be met. These women require comprehensive services, but, as Rachel Lloyd of GEMS International notes, there are only 50 beds [in the U.S.] and only a few service providers giving care.

She stressed the need to think of creative way to do research.

A Protocol Against Trafficking in Persons: Is it Enough?: The Impact of a Trafficking Treaty
Michelle Forrest
Santa Clara University School of Law

Forrest discussed the limitations of an anti-trafficking treaty and asked what else could be done to address the problem of trafficking.

She said that trafficking is difficult to fight because the criminals are flexible and sophisticated, they use unconventional means and the crime is hidden.

Forrest listed the highlights of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (VTVPA) of 2000:

- prosecutor burden streamlined
- broadened definition of forced labor
- crimes defined to include rape
- requires restitution
- provides more adequate protection
- enhances pre-existing criminal penalties and establishes cabinet level task force

But what else can be done beyond this protocol? She gave some examples:

- Germany and France are using creative court procedures in which the victims have a broader role.

- Trafficking could be made a priority, as is being done in Belgium.

- The implementation of the interception of communication and intrusive surveillance could take place.

She also stated the importance of pulling together on any measures undertaken [because changing laws to make law enforcement easier has civil liberties implications.]

Longitudinal Study on Re-integration from Aftercare Facilities in Cambodia–Clients’ Own Perceptions of Success
Glenn Miles
Love 146, Chab Dai, University of Wales-Swansea
Siobhan Miles
Chab Dai

Miles [I’m not confident which one spoke] described an anticipated 10-year study that would seek best care practice in the “aftercare” of trafficked women. The study will evaluate 100 survivors and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Miles discussed these facts:

- reintegration is complex
- every woman has different needs
- each program to be evaluated is different

The organizations that will be involved in the study must be faith-based. Fourteen organizations have been approached so far.

Window to India: Rescuing and Restoring Victims of Human Trafficking
Valerie Payne
Jubilee Campaign USA

Ms. Payne discussed the work of Jubilee Campaign, a faith-based non-profit that works with Bombay Teen Challenge (BTC). Jubilee helps fund this organization.

She discussed four areas of partnership that Bombay Teen Challenge undertakes:

1) partnership with the community
2) partnership with non-profits (e.g., The Jubilee Circle of Friends)
3) partnership with corporations
4) partnership with the government

As an example of a corporate partnership (which she states is often overlooked), the survivors of trafficking make guitar picks for The Hard Rock Cafe.

She said the founder of Bombay Teen Challenge, “Uncle Dev,” also interacts with the local police and has come to Washington, D.C. on behalf of his organization.

She said Dev moved to the Bombay red light district in order to help the girls in prostitution there. She said that the girls are never forced out of the brothel but rather, when they are ready to leave, they ask for Uncle Dev. The organization has since moved to a secure, remote location two hours from Bombay. Payne described the importance of reintegration.

In order to help build trust, BTC runs mobile HIV and dental clinics. The also run four homes. One of these is for children. Another of their projects is Ashagram, where the mothers of HIV-positive children are housed.

Payne mentioned that concerns over conversion to Christianity are a big issue in India. Bombay Teen Challenge does not require conversion in exchange for services. [In the QA that followed, a discussion ensued as to whether there was an unvoiced pressure to convert.]

Media Representation and Human Trafficking: How Anti-Trafficking Discourse Affects Trafficked Persons
Caroline Wallinger
Arizona State University

Ms. Wallinger discussed the representation of human trafficking in the media:

- She discussed the concept of Agenda Setting Theory, which deals with the media’s  framing of the debate in public discourse.

- She said that journalists sometimes use the terms “smuggling” and “trafficking” interchangeably and that this mistake is not trivial because it can affect legislation.

- She said that [while most people prefer the term “survivor,”] using the term “victim” can be used in certain contexts (e.g., with respect to a protocol) to show that the matter under discussion is policy related and policies may be written using that terminology.



Laura Blomquist Appointed to Board

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Laura Blomquist to Ninlil Project’s Board of Directors. Laura is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies where she received her Master’s degree in International Relations and Economics, concentrating in International Law. Her academic research includes an investigation of trafficking in persons in India. She has worked for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Rome and in UN Political Affairs. We are excited to bring her combination of academic rigor, political awareness and grassroots energy to the organization.



Communication with Colombian Broadcasting Organizations

We’ve been in touch with the Comisión Nacional de Televisión (the National Television Commission) in Colombia and Teleantioquia (the regional broadcaster in the Medellin area). The Comisión has provided us with guidelines for public service announcements such as ours and Teleantioquia had some questions about the project, our organization, etc.



501(c)(3) Status Granted!

I received notification from the IRS that our application for 501(c)(3) status was approved. This means that donations we receive are tax deductible for the donor and that we are qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, gifts, etc.



Discussion with Elisha Novak

I met with Elisha Novak. Elisha is the Director of Immigration Legal Assistance Services at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha. She is also working on her Master’s degree in sociology and will be interviewing trafficked women in the U.S. as part of her research. We discussed our individual perspectives and projects and also discussed working together on projects in areas of overlapping interest.



UN.GIFT Disappointment

I received notice that we did not receive the UN.GIFT grant. This was not a surprise, although certainly a small disappointment. But there are other grants in the sea!