Scholars estimate that human trafficking will surpass drug and arms trafficking in its incidence and economic effect during the next decade (Schauer & Wheaton, 2006: 164-165; quoted in Wheaton, Schauer & Galli, 2010: 114). The number of people trafficked is substantial—between 600,000 and 800,000 people were trafficked globally in 2005, and by 2009 an estimated 12.3 million adults and children had been illegally trafficked (US State Department, 2010). Other estimates place the number as high as 29.8 million (Walk Free Foundation 2013).
While the majority of countries in the international system experience some form of human trafficking, little broad cross-national research exists on its supply and demand factors. States from Chile and Colombia to Georgia and France take substantial efforts in prosecuting human traffickers and protecting victims, while others like Saudi Arabia, Niger, and North Korea do not (US State Department, 2010). What explains the differing responses? Researchers cannot say in any broadly cross-national sense. In part this is attributable to the inherent empirical difficulties when studying any type of illegal activity—the relevant actors have incentives to hide their actions. This difficulty, however, is not insurmountable, and researchers have productively studied other illegal activities like drug smuggling (Cornell, 2005; Reuter & Greenfield, 2001) and illicit weapon sales (Small Arms Survey, 2003). Due in part to both data limitations and normative interests, most human trafficking scholars focus on the experiences of current and former victims rather than the transnational dynamics of human trafficking flows or the efforts that governments take (or do not take) to prevent human trafficking.
The Human Trafficking Indicators (HTI) project begins to fill this significant gap by coding the cross-national variation in human trafficking flows and government responses to them. The HTI dataset was created as part of a book project (tentatively titled Understanding Human Trafficking) focused on the quantitative analysis of human trafficking patterns around the world and government responses to these patterns. The dataset codes information about human trafficking flows between 179 countries and within them from 2000 to 2011. It also includes disaggregated measures of government efforts at prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing future trafficking.
I hope that this blog will be a means to exchange ideas with other people, whether researchers, policymakers, or the general public as our research goes forward. The real-world implications of increasing knowledge and awareness of human trafficking is clear, and trafficking is becoming much more in the global eye; however, researchers are only beginning to understand its global scope and the actions (and effects) of traffickers, their victims, governments, and concerned organizations. The HTI and the ongoing book project are my way of trying to understand a complex, illicit, and growing phenomenon. I look forward to your comments, critiques, and suggestions.