SEATTLE, Washington — Human trafficking involves using deceptive or forceful means to exploit people for profit. It is a large-scale human rights issue that affects 40 million people globally.
Common methods to fight human trafficking center around early prevention and post-recovery before or after exploitation occurs. While the methods are valuable and necessary, they have limitations. Early prevention methods face difficulties gathering data on their impact and post-recovery methods are unable to stop exploitation. Transit monitoring is a relatively new anti-trafficking method providing a solution by intercepting potential victims after someone deceived or coerced them. Trained monitors look for signs of trafficking at major points of travel and conduct potential victim interviews. Love Justice International (LJI) is a nonprofit fighting human trafficking through transit monitoring. LJI Director Sharon John told The Borgen Project how he used transit monitoring to intercept more than 1,500 potential trafficking victims in South Asia with teams over the last two and a half years.
What Transit Monitoring Looks Like
John leads his team out to a busy railway station in South Asia where they disperse in pairs. Targeting a major point of travel is strategic. At this point, the potential victim is often in the deception phase, thinking they are heading to a new job or opportunity. Stopping the trafficking scheme allows for the potential victim to walk unharmed while monitors collect trafficking data and report the trafficker to law enforcement.
John’s team walks or watches crowds from a higher vantage point, looking for signs of human trafficking.
“It’s never really out there in the open,” said John, “but sometimes you’ll hear conversations, hear a person commanding the children; you will hear different dialects being spoken, so you know they’re not from the same community or geographical area.”
When staff members see a possible trafficking victim, they take conversation-based approach by asking simple questions. The staff asks “Where are you coming from? Where are you going?” If the staff member determines that there are red flags in this conversation, the next step is to separate the travelers and continue interviewing. If trafficking is present, frequently the stories won’t match. The trafficker might say they are traveling to a particular city for a certain reason including marriage, a new job and more while the victim believes something different. The staff member makes an “interception” after determining the person has a high risk of trafficking by matching the profile traffickers tend to target. The person receives information about trafficking and the freedom to choose how they wish to proceed. After an intercept, staff will arrange for the person to return home or to stay in a shelter home.
In South Asia, John estimated that about 97% of trafficking victims that LJI intercepts are minors.
“It’s very rare that we’re off,” John said. “I would say we have at least a 90% hit rate. The team is just really well-trained; they hone their skills every single day.”
Fighting human trafficking through transit monitoring has helped prevent 28,600 people from being trafficked and contributed to arresting more than 1,100 traffickers.
Transit monitoring also provides more opportunities for developing data and intelligence on human trafficking–areas that have been sorely lacking in the past. Where law enforcement has struggled to identify and report trafficking incidents, trained monitors are able to support officers by taking on most of this task.
What This Could Mean for the Future of Anti-Trafficking Work
Transit monitoring introduces a solution to some of the biggest challenges both government and nonprofits have faced. It is a way to identify and supply the evidence necessary for prosecution without having to wait until the victim experiences exploitation. The conversational and free will approach means that innocent travelers can move on unharmed. With all the advantages transit monitoring presents, there is still room for improvement. Transit monitoring does not solve trafficking that happens close to home and its strategies must be carefully adapted according to country and culture. The intention is for people to use it in conjunction with pre and post-exploitation methods.
Human trafficking has long loomed as a nearly impossible issue, too large and complex to effectively fight against. Fighting human trafficking through transit monitoring presents new possibilities for effectiveness, data collection and preserving human rights.
– Paula Cornell