Abstract: Methodological Considerations in Research on Sex Trafficking: Where do we go from here? (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

63P Methodological Considerations in Research on Sex Trafficking: Where do we go from here?

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Kristin Heffernan, PhD , State University of New York College at Brockport, Assistant Professor, Brockport, NY
Timothy P. Williams, MSW, MSc , Massachusetts General Hospital, Research Associate, Boston, MA
Betty J. Blythe, PhD , Boston College, Professor, Chestnut Hill, MA
Eugene Takahashi, PhD , The Home for Little Wanderers, Senior Director, Boston, MA
This paper presents a general overview of sex trafficking of women and children, including scope, magnitude, and definition. It addresses both methodological issues when conducting research on and with women and children who have been trafficked and offers strategies for addressing these identified barriers and methodological challenges. Sex trafficking of women and children is increasingly being seen as a significant public health and human rights concern (Bertone, 1999; Cwikel et al, 2004). This sort or abuse has been associated with a broad range of serious physical issues including HIV infection (Silverman et al., 2007) and other sexually transmitted diseases (Clawson, Salomon & Goldblatt, 2008), and injuries from violence, as well as mental health issues such as depression (Parriott, 1994), anxiety, panic disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders over and above a combination of these (Clawson, Salomon & Goldblatt, 2008). Many researchers exploring human trafficking are looking at it from different perspectives, trying to better understand either the political, economical and/or human rights aspects of human sex trafficking. Trafficking for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation is an issue that has profound implications for hundreds of thousands of women and children around the world, yet current theoretical understandings into the multiple dimensions of sex trafficking remain largely understudied and consequently misunderstood by researchers, policymakers, and service providers. More specifically, we discuss the methods, measures and procedures used in existing literature, reports and peer-reviewed papers for the purpose of shedding new light on the inherent issues experienced when conducting research on sex trafficking.

The authors sampled global literature, reports and peer review papers on human sex trafficking of women and children over the past 20 years looking specifically at the methods, measures and procedures used in the different studies. Rather than just summarizing what we already know, we organize the material into key themes and critically assess the knowledge base for the purpose of identifying gaps and future challenges

What we found is that there is a need for more rigorous research in order to improve our knowledge of the dynamic challenges facing trafficking victims, specifically how do researchers collect the most accurate and important data without undermining the health/safety of victims. As human service and health care professionals develop interventions to prevent trafficking and/or to ameliorate its effects, researchers need to evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts. Such evaluations can help advance the development of evidence-based approaches to working with trafficking victims and survivors, which has widespread implications ranging from global policy to the clinical setting.