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Governing through Indicators: Structural Biases and Empirical Challenges in Indicator-Based Approaches to Human Trafficking Research and Policy

De Vries, Ieke; Cockbain, Ella; (2023) Governing through Indicators: Structural Biases and Empirical Challenges in Indicator-Based Approaches to Human Trafficking Research and Policy. In: Faulkner, Elizabeth, (ed.) Modern Slavery in Global Context. Bristol University Press: Bristol, UK. (In press).

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Abstract

In this reflective chapter, we examine the structural biases and empirical challenges underlying human trafficking ‘indicators’ (especially problem, risk and performance indicators) that are routinely used to describe and measure human trafficking, assess risk, identify abuses, evaluate responses, and encourage accountability. While frequently used, such indicators can give an undue illusion of objectivity and reliability when they are neither neutral nor unskewed. In fact, numerous factors affect which elements are privileged as ‘indicators’ and which are obscured. We therefore examine here the selectivity, politics, racialized and gendered concerns that relate to the production and use of human trafficking indicators. Since human trafficking is a complex, highly-contested, and multi-faceted practice, it is not easily reduced to the crude generalizations upon which many indicators rest. We explore how the uncritical use of indicators can both contribute to stereotypical and unachievable ideals of victimhood and engender undue criminalization or withholding of victim support. In doing so, we disentangle some paradoxes around who is deemed ‘vulnerable’, ‘at risk’, ‘worthy of support’ and requiring ‘protection’. We highlight the – routinely overlooked – weak empirical basis and other limitations of many commonplace ‘indicators’ and challenges in building empirically-stronger and more robust indicators. The chapter concludes with overall implications of these critical reflections for policy, interventions, and research.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Governing through Indicators: Structural Biases and Empirical Challenges in Indicator-Based Approaches to Human Trafficking Research and Policy
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Security and Crime Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10160313
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