The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Human Trafficking Literature in the Past Decade: A Review of the Literature

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 4:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 001B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Y. Joon Choi, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Jennifer Elkins, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Shari E. Miller, MSW, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
David Okech, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background and Purpose: Human trafficking is a serious contemporary social justice and human rights issue. A recent U.S. government report estimated that as many as 27 million persons around the world are victims of human trafficking. To address the problem of trafficking, the U.S. passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000. The study presented here is a systematic review of the social work literature that covers the decade that spans the active life of the original TVPA. Given the values of the social work profession and the prevalence of trafficking, it is essential to ask: What is the state of the current literature on human trafficking in social work journals? Implications are directed toward social work policy, research, education, and practice.

Method: The study targeted social work journals obtained from two existing social work journal lists. The following search terms were used: trafficking; human trafficking, sex* trafficking, anti-trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, prostitution, sex industry, forced labor, smuggling, labor exploitation, modern day slavery. Studies included in the review met the following inclusion criteria: 1) published in one of the social work journals included in the comprehensive list, 2) published between January, 2000 and December 2011, 3) published in English or with English translation, and 4) focused on listed search terms. Using SPSS version 20.0, articles were reviewed and coded on the basis of the following features: definition of trafficking, type of trafficking, study design, target population, target population demographics, country of origin of the authors, recommendations for social work, and journal name. Inter-rater reliability tests between reviewers were conducted four times resulting in an agreement exceeding 90%.

Results: A total of 33 articles on human trafficking as defined above were published in 14 social work journals between 2000 and 2011. A majority of the authors (n = 23, 70%) were affiliated with US institutions while the rest (n = 10, 30%) were affiliated with institutions outside the U.S. A total of 20 (61%) included particular recommendations for social work policy, practice, research, and/or education. Among the emerging themes in the articles reviewed were a need for increased focus on the problem of sex trafficking among stakeholders; need for relevant definitions when studying the wide spectrum of trafficking; need for more empirical studies that analyze data; need for more defined role of social work in anti-trafficking efforts; focus on victims across the lifespan; more work on the plight of male victims; and a more geographical focus of a problem that is global and transnational.

Conclusions and Implications: There is need for policies that enforce anti-trafficking laws and support of victims. Empirical research and reliable data on the topic pose a challenge for rigorous and translational research. There is acknowledgement that practice approaches to addressing trafficking must span the practice continuum and consider not only victims of trafficking, but their communities as well. Another notable finding that emerged out of the review of the articles’ recommendations for social work was the almost universal absence of specific recommendations for social work education.