urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Victims of Crime

Human Trafficking Research

Researchers within the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center work on a variety of national and international studies on human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Current and past projects are listed below. To contact an expert on human trafficking, please email humantraffickinginfo@urban.org.

 

Current United States-Focused Research on Human Trafficking

Understanding the Organization, Operation, and Victimization of Labor Trafficking in the United States

Little is known about the nature of labor trafficking victimization in the United States, nor how labor traffickers and their facilitators operate. Using an in-depth case study method, this project analyzes the stages and components of the labor victimization experience from recruitment and entrapment to transportation, documents acquisition, the victimization itself, victim efforts to seekhelp, and the process of victim extrication from the exploitative situation. Using a multi-method approach researchers examine trafficking cases that fall into different types of labor trafficking, including domesticservitude, restaurant and service work, commercial agriculture, factory work (sweatshops), and othertypes of work. The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (NIJ), is a joint project with the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and Northeastern University.

Contact: Colleen Owens and Meredith Dank (Urban Institute Co-Principal Investigators); Amy Farrell and Jack McDevitt (Northeastern University Co-Principal Investigators) 

Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases

The Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, in collaboration with Northeastern University is conducting a National Institute of Justice-funded study on challenges in the investigation and prosecution of state and local human trafficking cases in a sample of jurisdictions across the United States. 

Contact: William Adams and Colleen Owens (Urban Institute); Amy Farrell and Jack McDevitt (Northeastern University)

Estimating the Unlawful Commercial Sex Economy in the United States

The Urban Institute’s (UI) Justice Policy Center (JPC), in collaboration with Dr. Richard Curtis and Dr. Bilal Khan from City University of New York John Jay College of Criminal Justice, received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to conduct a study of the unlawful commercial sex economy (UCSE) aimed at measuring the size of the UCSE in the United States (US) and exploring the extent to which the UCSE and other commercial sex activities are related. Relying on a multi-method approach using both qualitative and quantitative analyses, the project team is collecting data to estimate the size of the unlawful sex economy in the US and to assess the ties across different types of activities in the UCSE. A combination of quantitative and qualitative data analyses will yield an aggregate estimate of the unlawful economy and its sub-economies supported by qualitative insights and experience of local law enforcement and convicted offenders.

Contact: Meredith Dank  

Human Trafficking Reporting System

The Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, in collaboration with Northeastern University, was awarded a grant by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to design and implement a national Human Trafficking Reporting System (HTRS).  This system provides a secure and sustainable mechanism for collecting federal, state, and local data regarding victims and offenders involved in human trafficking incidents investigated by federally-funded human trafficking task forces.  The data collected is intended both to help meet statistical reporting requirements specified by Congress and to provide task forces with a standardized data management system, which is critical in assessing the success of human trafficking prevention and intervention strategies. The HTRS was designed, piloted, and launched in January 2008 and is currently collecting data throughout the United States.

The most recent report on HTRS data, Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010, can be found at: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cshti0810.pdf.

The first report on the data, Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2007-08, can be found here: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cshti08.pdf.

Contact: William Adams and Colleen Owens (Urban Institute); Amy Farrell and Jack McDevitt (Northeastern University)

 

Current International Research on Human Trafficking

An Impact Evaluation of Services for Victims of Trafficking in Persons

Despite significant international funding of services to help rescue and rehabilitate victims of trafficking in persons (TIP), little is known about the effectiveness of such programs. With funding from the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP) the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center is conducting a three-year impact evaluation of a victim service provision program. The evaluation involves the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative baseline and follow-up data, as well as technical assistance to the program throughout the evaluation to ensure data are collected accurately and systematically.

Co-Principal Investigators: Colleen Owens and Meredith Dank

Process Evaluation of an Anti-Trafficking Prevention Program in the Western Hemisphere

With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP), the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center is conducting a 24-month process evaluation to document the implementation and program operations of an anti-trafficking prevention program in the Western Hemisphere. Findings from the study will provide an empirical and objective measure of the strengths and gaps in the public awareness strategies of the project, and inform refinements and improvements necessary to both strengthen the program and facilitate its replication in other countries.

Co-Principal Investigators: Meredith Dank and Colleen Owens

Promising Practices to Combat Trafficking in Persons in Tier 1 Countries

This 15-month study, conducted by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and funded by the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP), aims to identify and examine anti-trafficking policies and practices in countries in East Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere assessed as complying with the minimum standards in the 2010 TIP Report. The analysis will highlight promising practices for future evaluation.

Co-Principal Investigators: Colleen Owens and Meredith Dank

 

Past Human Trafficking Research Projects

Evaluability Assessments of International Anti-Trafficking Programs

The Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center conducted evaluability assessments of four internationally funded anti-trafficking in persons programs (two in East Asia Pacific and two in Africa) under a cooperative agreement from the U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP). The purpose of the assessments was to determine if each of the four programs could be evaluated and to develop technical assistance to each site to become evaluable.

Co-Principal Investigators: Meredith Dank and Colleen Owens

Measuring Human Trafficking Victimization

The Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, in partnership with Northeastern University and Abt Associates, conducted a systematic review of existing estimates of victims of severe forms of human trafficking in the United States and suggested improved estimates of the prevalence of human trafficking based on the existing and arguably incomplete research.

Contact: Colleen Owens, William Adams, and Meredith Dank

A Report on Federally Prosecuted CSEC Cases Since the Passage of the TVPA

The Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and its practitioner partner, the Polaris Project, received an award from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to conduct a twelve-month study on the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth (CSEC). The research took the form of a national longitudinal analysis of federal prosecutions since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000. In addition to statistical analyses of CSEC cases filed by U.S. Attorneys since 2000, the research included a literature review, interviews with prosecutors, and a focus group of victim service providers. The study aimed to answer the following research questions: (1) Have we enforced existing laws related to CSEC? (2) What are the key features of successful CSEC cases?  What factors predict convictions in cases?  What factors predict sentence length?  (3) Have we increased penalties associated with sexual crimes against children?  (4) What, if any, are the effects of legislation aimed at combating CSEC on service providers who work with these victims? An OJJDP bulletin summarizing the main findings of the study may be found here: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/228631.pdf. The final report can be found here: http://www.urban.org/publications/411813.html

Contact: William Adams and Colleen Owens

Comprehensive Services for Survivors of Human Trafficking: Findings from Clients in Three Communities

Many humans are trafficked across international borders for the purposes of labor or sexual exploitation.  The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) developed the "Services for Trafficking Victims Discretionary Grant Program - Comprehensive Services Sites.” The program provides direct services, such as legal and crisis counseling, to assist victims once they are identified until they are “certified” to receive other federal benefits.  Researchers in the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center conducted in-person interviews with survivors and key service providers in three evaluation sites.  The in-depth interviews document victims’ service needs, their experiences using OVC-funded services, and barriers to services.  They also provide a unique opportunity to listen directly to the voices of the victims. The final report can be found here: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411507_human_trafficking.pdf

Contact: Janine Zweig