Trafficking and how to fight it

One of the last things I did in Colorado before moving East was hike Longs Peak (no apostrophe, weird, I know). Longs is one the famous 14ers in Colorado, or a mountain whose summit lies higher than 14,000 feet above sea level. On my way down, I met up with a group who was climbing to raise awareness for an anti-trafficking organization, which warms my heart a little bit.

Whether to include trafficking, and particularly sex trafficking in a review I was working on was a particularly difficult decision. Trafficking is a problem that I feel is pretty understudied. It affects many diverse groups of people, so you don’t see women’s groups jumping on the larger problem–though plenty of them work on sex trafficking–and I don’t think there is much of a consensus on how to combat it. While a good thorough search yields numerous programs, advertising campaigns, raids, plays and more that aim to create awareness of trafficking, there’s not much analysis of their success. And truthfully, it would be very difficult to measure success. If we think domestic violence is an underreported problem that is difficult to measure, human trafficking is all the more so. For that reason, and likely others, economists have a hard time modeling it and so steer clear of it. Maybe I just have a blind spot. If economists haven’t tried to study it, I think it’s understudied.

So, we have no idea whether these work, but the NYT unveiled a collection of global anti-trafficking campaigns that is just really cool. In development work, people talk a lot about including local people in development plans, but it rarely happens as perhaps it should. For programs like these, that attempt to increase awareness or affect social norms, local direction is equally important, and sadly, often equally ignored.

Though I can’t speak to their veracity, the campaigns herein seem to reflect the cultures and unique problems that the countries face around trafficking. I like the Jamaican one, for instance, that equates trafficking to slavery–a historical and close-to-home reference–but encourages the reader to think about the problem in a more nuanced way.

It’s a shame, of course, that there’s no good way to measure the effectiveness of these programs. Or rather, now that they are in place, we cannot easily tell whether their dissemination had any effect on attitudes. The lack of good counterfactuals, the problem of measuring secondary effects versus primary effects, externalities, etc, all make for a nightmare of an econometrics problem. There might be room for good qualitative analysis, but again with the underreporting, etc.

Regardless, the visuals are pretty cool. I highly recommend you check them out.

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