Worldwide, more than 25 million victims of human trafficking are enslaved for the commercial gain of others. This pervasive violation of basic human rights has led to a widespread movement of governments pledging to end modern slavery as one of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and to adapt the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol.

Despite the gravity and prevalence of human trafficking, there is a notable lack of evidence on what programs work to reduce trafficking and support victims. While there have been numerous high-quality studies to document the complex dynamics of human trafficking, there are very few rigorous impact evaluations that reliably test strategies for addressing trafficking and can be used to design evidence-based programs and policies.

To support research on this critical and understudied topic, IPA has established the Human Trafficking Research Initiative in partnership with the Program to End Modern Slavery (PEMS) at the U.S. Department of State, and with scientific advisors Guy Grossman (University of Pennsylvania) and Cecilia Hyunjung Mo (University of California, Berkeley). The initiative will foster partnerships between researchers and practitioners; innovate on and improve the research methods for studying this challenging topic; initiate formative pilot testing of programs; and conduct large-scale studies on the efforts to prevent trafficking, prosecute crimes, and protect trafficked persons.

The initiative will research anti-trafficking interventions, systems, settings, and conditions that will enable sustainable change, and work to ensure evidence is accessible to and used by decision-makers through local policy outreach in our country offices and through our global network.

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By its illicit and clandestine nature, human trafficking is an extraordinarily difficult topic to study. Victims and perpetrators are not easily identified, and those that are identified often do not provide accurate information. Due to the challenges inherent in studying the topic and the sensitive nature of human trafficking programs, implementing partners and researchers have a limited track record of collaboratively developing large-scale studies. The Human Trafficking Research Initiative will strengthen the network of implementing organizations, government agencies, and scholars that will collaborate to expand the evidence base on effective strategies to reduce forced labor and sex trafficking. The Initiative seeks to play a central role match-making between organizations aiming to evaluate their programs and researchers who are focused on understanding the underlying factors driving human trafficking and tangible ways to combat it. In addition, the Initiative will support research teams to carry out studies by developing and sharing resources to promote ethical and high-quality research.

If you are working to reduce trafficking, or if you are a researcher who is carrying out or planning a study on the topic, get in touch with us by emailing the HTRI team.