Combat Human Trafficking

Data, Technology, Economics, Policy

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Sex Trafficking and the Super Bowl

            The 2014 Super Bowl is set to be held at MetLife Stadium in the state of New Jersey in just over two weeks. Since the announcement of the venue there has been an increased focus on the amount of sex trafficking that occurs before and during large events, especially sporting events like the Super Bowl. Many New Jersey politicians have worked to pass new laws in the state that lead to harsher penalties for traffickers while lessening the punishment for victims. The take is that this will encourage people being trafficked to come forward. The state of New Jersey should be commended for its increased efforts to put an end to the despicable crime that is human trafficking. However, the state’s reasons for the sudden peak in policy making are wrong. Governor Christie and several Representatives and Senators from the state have said that their reason for the increased attention going to human trafficking is the expected increase in human trafficking as a result of the Super Bowl. There is no unbiased evidence that suggests that this “fact” is true.

            With that being said, the effort to decrease, and eventually put a complete end to, human trafficking is a noble cause. There have been several articles posted about the increased effort to educate people in the communities that surround the host stadium. This is a very smart and well thought out idea but the efforts should not only focus on the workers and residents of New Jersey. Why not educate the potential human trafficking detectors that are all of the residents of the United States? Granted, this task would demand an extremely large amount of capital but if experts believe they can educate the people of New Jersey enough to spot human trafficking, it should be expanded to the rest of the country. The victims of trafficking all over the country, and the world, deserve to be helped just as much as those that happen to be at the Super Bowl in the coming weeks.

            The efforts in New Jersey include educating taxi drivers, hotel workers, police officers, and high school students. Anti-trafficking groups are working on distributing emergency hot line phone numbers to hotels and public restrooms in the hopes of reaching some victims. With all of this extra planning and training it is likely that there will be a spike in arrests involving human trafficking leading up to and during the Super Bowl. However, when this data is analyzed, it must be taken into account that this does not necessarily mean that there was a significant increase in human trafficking during the event but only means that there was an increase in arrest which may be attributed to increased vigilance.

            In the coming months and years all states and countries should follow in New Jersey’s steps by making an effort to educate their residents about the signs of human trafficking. However, it would be unwise to hold off on anti-trafficking efforts until a large event is scheduled – instead, efforts to increase awareness should be undertaken immediately.  


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A Federal Strategic Action Plan Enhancing the Fight Against Human Trafficking

“We see you. We hear you. We insist on your dignity. And we share your belief that if just given the chance, you will forge a life equal to your talents and worthy of your dreams.”

President Obama spoke these words at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012. In his address, he expressed sympathy for human trafficking victims and pledged his support in the fight against trafficking.  Two weeks ago, President Obama declared January 2014 the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

This morning the Directory of the Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Munoz, announced the release of the first-ever Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States.

The process of creating the plan included efforts of more than 15 agencies across the federal government along with stakeholders that are involved in the fight against human trafficking in the country. The focus of this plan is victim-centered. This approach is needed so the needs of the survivors are met so that they can return to their lives with confidence. The plan is a five-year path that will increase the coordination, collaboration, and the capacity of governmental and nongovernmental entities across the United Sates. The four main goals of the plan are:

  1. To align efforts:  the plan aims to increase the coordination of services for victims at all levels: federal, regional, state, territorial, tribal and local.
  2. To improve understanding: the plan wants to expand the current research and data that is available now to increase the evaluation of victim services.
  3. To expand access to services: the plan will provide outreach, advocacy, and additional resources to enhance victim identification and to expand the availability of services.
  4. To improve outcomes: the plan strives to provide trauma-informed services for long- and short-term needs of human trafficking victims.

Thus, the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States truly hopes to ensure that the victims in the United States can be identified and that they can access the services they need that, as President Obama stated, “help victims recover and rebuild their lives.”

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Typhoon Haiyan Increases Human Trafficking Activity in the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan, one of the deadliest typhoons to hit the Philippines in recorded history, made landfall on November 8, 2013. The tropical cyclone affected over 16 million people and about 4 million people were displaced. The majority of the displaced population is in Manila and Cebu. Loss of life and property are most commonly associated with natural disasters; increased human trafficking activity generally occurs as well.

The survivors of the typhoon are in a vulnerable state. They seek shelter and food, for someone to care for them. Women, children, and those with special needs are at high risk and are often found alone, stranded, resting on the rubble, and desperately searching for shelter and food. Desperation makes it easy for exploiters to manipulate their victims, lassoing them into their crimes through false promises to fulfill their needs for survival. Traffickers often kidnap vulnerable persons, sell them to pedophiles, and earn money for putting the children in illegal adoptions, and/or make them slaves of sexual exploitation.


According to UNICEF, about 60 to 100 thousand children are trafficked for sexual exploitation in the Philippines. Human trafficking in this country is a common phenomenon that occurs after disasters like Haiyan.

It’s apparent that responses to natural disasters need to include human trafficking protection. The Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippine government sent out urgent messages to the humanitarian workers after the typhoon to respond with urgency. To strengthen the battle against the heightened activity of human trafficking this area, new ways to increase public advocacy need to be considered, the judicial system needs to be strengthened, and to improvements to rehabilitation and psychological treatments are for victims need to occur.

The Filipino communities, along with many communities around the world, need more education on how to spot human trafficking cases. Many cases in the Philippines seem to take advantage of kin. Thus, children and family members are taken advantage of because they do not understand the situation and trust the ones close to them. Increased awareness would increase rescue rates.

The Philippine’s judicial system could also benefit from improvements – convictions and prosecutions for such activity is rare. Their rates are low due to incompetence and corruption. Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the convener of the Philippines’ Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking, believes that a high conviction rate along with a high prosecution rate can frighten those who are thinking of committing these crimes.

In regards to their rehabilitation and psychological treatment centers for the victims, the Bishop has confidence in their ability to improve these areas because of the expertise they have in the region and their technical knowledge. Using these tools to improve these victim services can hopefully increase the rate of recovery.

The impact of natural disasters can rarely be predicted, but integrating trafficking prevention into disaster risk management is crucial to the protection and safety of the survivors.

Picture source: Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

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Victims turned criminals: sex trafficking

Shamere McKenzie was 21 years old when she began exchanging sex for money.

While attending college in New York, Shamere met a man who seemed like the complete package – that is, until he began abusing her and forcing her into prostitution. She became his “bottom girl,” and was forced to help him transport and pimp other victims. The saddest part is not necessarily her trials of sex exploitation, but rather the trial that came later. Following the 18 months of torture, she was convicted as a sex offender.

Unfortunately, her story is not unusual. Most prostitutes do not work the streets because they want to, but because they have no other choice. Like McKenzie, they are forced into the practice by abusive partners who turn into their pimps. And rather than helping these victims, the criminal justice system turns them into criminals.

Following rescue, many women are charged with sex crimes. It is not recognized that coercion or force was involved and that these women had no choice. However, in 2010 law enforcement in Anaheim realized this was a real problem and began treating prostitution as a form of human trafficking. Rather than arresting the victims, protocols were created to allow victimized women to return to normal lives. Anaheim police remove the women from the street, direct victims to organization that can provide assistance, and build cases against their alleged pimps. In this pursuit of justice for victims, the Anaheim Police Department has saved 52 victims and prosecuted 38 pimps between August 2011 and October 2012.

That was in 2010, and this trend has continued into 2013. In September, New York Judge Jonathan Lippman announced his plans to set up courtrooms specifically for cases of sex trafficking and prostitution. By doing so, he hopes to decrease the number of prostitutes punished for being forced into the sex trade. Lippman expects that cases judged to be coercion of victims into prostitution will be dismissed, or that charges will be less severe. He also plans for victim support services to be offered.

While efforts are being made, there are still victims being punished for, basically, being victims. Legislation that protects victims must be a priority if we hope to save victims from a lifetime of sex trade. Rather than turning them into criminals, we must treat them as victims and offer support, whether it be counseling, employment, or any other service to help them get on their feet. If we treat them as criminals, they will undoubtedly return to a life of prostitution. By offering support, these victims have a chance to return to a happy, healthy life.

Luckily for Shamere McKenzie she was given a second chance by Shared Hope international, where she now works and helps victims like herself.

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Utilizing Statistics derived from Eurostat and the International Organization of Migration to Enhance Decision Making

Statistics can be a useful tool when addressing many policy-based questions. Decision makers are tasked with making proper decisions that will create a successful, beneficial, and/or remarkable change on a small or large scale. Society also benefits from statistics when they are key players in these types of decision processes; even the public and the media utilize statistics to paint the picture of what our current society is like and helps evaluate the performance of governmental bodies. They can help answer the important “What” questions: What direction is our society headed in? What is going wrong? What areas need most attention and more intervention? etc. Specifically, when comparing statistics by regional level and country level, these comparisons can further aid in the illustration of how current societies appear and differ today. These measurements, representing the way our neighbors live, further encourages better decision making when addressing these “What” questions.

Eurostat is one of the leading providers of high quality statistics on Europe that can be utilized by institutions of the European Union. Understanding the decision making and evaluation benefits that can be squeezed out of statistics, they structure their works into themes ranging from general and regional statistic to social conditions.This allows their databases to be accessed with clarity and focus. Their statistics can be found in their press releases along with free databases via internet.

The International Organization of Migration is a key inter-governmental agency concerning migration and has a specific area focusing on human trafficking. The IOM’s efforts with combating human trafficking began in 1994 and since then, they have created 800 projects in more than 100 countries and have assisted about 20,000 trafficked persons. However, IOM understands that it is difficult to realistically quantify the global human trafficking activities, and so they operate with the mindset that trafficking needs to be integrated into our knowledge of migration management. They provide qualitative and quantitative data mostly on the national level. 

Drawing upon data that is accessible through the Eurostat’s database and IOM’s database, maps were created using the software our team at Decision Theater has been utilizing, Tableau, to visualize human trafficking statistics on a global and regional level. Yukika Awazu is responsible for creating each of the visualizations discussed below. To note, data was unavailable for many countries, these countries have a null value in the visualizations or they were excluded entirely in order to enhance the legibility of the visualizations and country level.


This graph represents number of human trafficking cases over the course of  2010-2012 by region. Europe had the highest cases of in the year 2010 and even though there was an overall decrease in the cases from that year, it has the highest numbers of cases in relation to the other regions.  Africa is the only region that displays an overall decrease in cases through the years.


The graph represents the number of cases of human trafficking victims, presumed and identified, in relation to explotation type in 2010-2012. Surprisingly to our team at Decision Theater, the labor exploitation was higher than all other types of exploitation. Sexual explotation does show a high prevelance as well, but has been slowly declining throughout the years. The other types of explotation such as forced begging, criminal activities, and removal of organs has slowly increased throughout the years as well.


This graph illustrates the number of victims and traffickers by their citizenship between 2008-2010. The graph suggests that the there are higher counts of victims and traffickers in Romania and Blugaria. There also is a strong increase in traffickers over the years in Spain.


This graph displays informatin regarding the number of victims per 100,000 inhabitants in the yeasr 2008-2010. On the maps, the darker green countries have a higher density of victims and the pie charts offer an additional way to view and compare the number of victims per country. The darkest region on the map and the gary slice on the pie chart indicate that Italy has the highest number of victims during each year.

With visual representations the comparisons are more easily understood. Utilizing the two databases we can see that the European region has a high rate of trafficking cases, higher than many other regions. Many questions can arise from this that can lead to future reserach. For example, what characteristics of European life can contribute to human trafficking activities? How does that compare with other regions? We can even take this further and try to understand what specific exploitation types are being utilized in Europe and how can that be prevented. From these visuals we see that labor is a huge component in trafficking. The efforts can then move this specifc type of trafficking into top priority in prevention programs. Thus, statistcs are crucial to decision making process and can even be strengthened when they can be visualized. This helps policy-makers understand differences and similarities across borders.

Yukika Awazu created all the graphics and visualizations in Tableau.

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The Speculated Link Between Large Events and Human Trafficking

On Friday, November 22nd a discussion surrounding the necessity of combating human trafficking will be held in Phoenix, Arizona. Mrs. Cindy McCain and New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie will lead this talk. A recent press release for the event states that an important topic in this discussion will be the speculated link between spikes in human trafficking activities and large events, like the Super Bowl. New Jersey is set to host the Super Bowl, the largest sporting event of the year, in 2014 which makes the link between trafficking and large crowds an important topic for Governor Christie.

For many years people in the media have speculated over the idea of the possibility of a link between trafficking and large events. However, investigations conducted in Phoenix, host of the 2008 Super Bowl, Tampa, host of the 2009 Super Bowl, and Dallas, host of the 2011 Super Bowl, found virtually no link between large sporting events and increased amounts of human trafficking. Interviews with police sergeants in the cities stated above reveal the fact that very few human trafficking or prostitution arrests were made in the week leading up to the Super Bowl in the cities’ respective hosting years. In the report, officials state that the number of arrests made in relation to trafficking or prostitution were no higher than the same types of arrests made in a typical week in a large city. One event that was sighted as increasing the amount of human trafficking was the Olympics in Greece in 2004. However, an interview with the spokeswoman for the Greek embassy in Washington DC stated that the increased number of human trafficking related requests was due to the increased coordination of efforts to combat trafficking, and not an increase in the crime itself.

The same detailed analysis that was done for the Super Bowl cities was applied to other sporting events such as the World Cup and the London Olympics. Still, no link between a large influx of people and an increase in the amount of human trafficking has been found. In another study conducted in Germany, it was found that sporting events like the World Cup did increase the demand for prostitution in the host city although no notable supply increase was seen. In this same study, an advocacy group was quoted saying that the World Cup in Germany would bring an estimated 40,000 prostitutes to the area. Every expert cited, whether they believed that sporting events increased trafficking and prostitution incidents or didn’t, said that the estimate was unsupported and extremely exaggerated. Many advocates and experts believe that the focus put onto the correlation between large sporting events and increases in human trafficking actually hurt their efforts in other areas of the fight to end human trafficking.

Yet, lawmakers and legislators still focus on the unsubstantiated rumor. In 2012, the governor of Indiana signed a piece of human trafficking legislation days before Indianapolis was to host the Super Bowl because he believed such events “tend to be magnets for criminal rings supporting prostitution.”

If there is no evidence to support this rampant rumor, why do so many people still believe it?

Perhaps the talk in Phoenix this Friday will shed some light on why legislators, like Governor Christie, and anti-trafficking advocates, like Mrs. McCain, are still hung-up on this rumor.

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The Visualizing Efforts of Truckers Against Trafficking Data

After receiving data from Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) describing call trends to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), a team at Decision Theater visualized the data using Tableau. The data from TAT contained information about caller location, call type, the type of trafficking, and the persons trafficked. This data spanned over 5 years from December 7th, 2007 to July 31st, 2013.

Calls per State

The TAT data was structured state-by-state which allowed the number of calls per state to be visualized geographically through Tableau.

TAT - Calls

With the data visualized in this format, it’s apparent that there is some centralizing of calls near the border, both Southwest and Southeast. In addition, the map displays a high call prevalence in Texas during this time period. Indiana, Florida, California, and Tennessee are states that also have some of the highest potential of human trafficking activity.

Call Type

The information gathered from TAT describing the call types fell into these 8 categories:

  • Tip
  • General Information
  • Crisis Situation
  • High-risk Situation
  • Service Referral
  • Unrelated Situation
  • Non-substantive Case
  • Technical Assistance

TAT - Call Type

This representation of the data suggests that a majority of the calls were tips of human trafficking incidences or were calls simply for general information.

Trafficking Type

TAT provided information on the type of trafficking that gets called in. The trafficking types also fell into 8 different categories:

  • Domestic Pimp-Controlled Trafficking
  • Pimp-Controlled Trafficking
  • Truck Stop – Moderate
  • Truck Stop – High
  • Other – Moderate
  • Other – High
  • Commercial Front – Brothel
  • Peddling/Door-to-Door

TAT- Trafficking Types

The graphical representation of this data suggests that domestic pimp-controlled trafficking is the most frequent type of trafficking reported, as well as pimp controlled- non-domestic, trafficking.

Cases Involved

TAT collected information on the victims that were involved in the reported human trafficking cases. The population involved in the trafficking can fall in more than one of these categories. These numbers refer to the number of cases that involved each of these populations, not the total number of people involved in the trafficking incidence.  The cases fell under one of these categories:

  • Females
  • Males
  • Minors
  • Adults
  • U.S Citizen
  • Foreign Nationals
TAT - Cases Involved

Human trafficking cases, as the graph suggests, involve females and minors more frequently than they involve adults and males.

Discussion on Data Visualization 

Inputting the data from TAT into the Tableau software allows the information to be visualized in formats that suit the data best. For these four specific categories of data from TAT, a geographical representation and various bar graphs displayed the information in a way that could be easily understood and readily analyzed. In addition, these visuals provide insight into the strengths and limitations of the data. The given data provides an insight into the common calls made to NHTRC and into the trafficking types that appear to be the most frequent. However, there are still some strong limitations that could affect the understanding of the reality of the situation.

This data only represents the number of calls received by NHTRC and not the actual number of persons trafficked or persons prosecuted for trafficking. Thus, these numbers do not reflect the actual burden of trafficking in each state. Also, what is not guaranteed in the data is the presence of TAT in each state.  The potential inequalities of TAT presence in each state could lead to an inaccurate ratio of human trafficking burden by state.

These visualizations trigger potential research for the future. Further research could be done to determine the role of trafficking education and how that influences the frequency of calls per state. Tableau also allows for an overlay of data, so these visualizations could also provide trends and relationships associated to human trafficking and socioeconomic variables. It may be interesting to overlay TAT’s data with rates of crime and violence per state. Thus, further research could reveal efficacy of education programs and correlations with key factors influencing the state of human trafficking.