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Public Understanding of Trafficking in Human Beings in Great Britain, Hungary and Ukraine

30 Nov 2019 22:11:45
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This article provides a summary of research undertaken to investigate public awareness and understanding of human trafficking in Great Britain, Hungary and Ukraine. Responding to the lack of reliable empirical data on this issue, the research relies on representative national opinion surveys to assess the extent of public awareness of what constitutes human trafficking, the sources of knowledge underpinning this awareness, and respondents’ attitudes towards key dimensions of human trafficking as embedded in international and respective national legal and policy frameworks and discourses.

 Conceptually, this article reinforces recent calls for policy and media paradigm shifts from understanding human trafficking as a phenomenon of crime and victimhood, to, above all, a human rights concern linked to the broader issues of sustainable development and social justice. Methodologically, the study highlights the role of opinion surveys as a measure of effectiveness and impact of anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. In practical terms, the article presents a set of data which can be useful for policy-makers, anti-trafficking activists, and national media in designing impactful awareness-raising campaigns and interventions.

The paper begins by setting out the context which has allowed for continuing calls for more anti-trafficking awareness without providing any means to assess the need for such campaigns, their content, and, finally, their efficiency. It then describes the methodology used to gain a snapshot of public understanding of human trafficking in three European countries/territories: Great Britain, Hungary and Ukraine. It then presents the outcomes of these representative surveys, highlighting gaps in knowledge among the general public in these countries. It concludes with a series of recommendations that can inform future research, policy and practitioner agendas in the field of anti-trafficking.

Setting out the Context

In 2015, the European Commission released a report on the content and impact of prevention initiatives on trafficking in human beings in Europe. The study was carried out by Deloitte, on behalf of the European Commission, to ‘systematically evaluate [among other activities] the impact of anti‐trafficking prevention initiatives, in particular awareness‐raising activities (including online activities)’. About 85 per cent of the projects assessed in the study dealt with information and awareness-raising measures. The report highlighted significant gaps in the evaluation of effectiveness of such initiatives, suggesting that projects tended to focus on monitoring rather than the evaluation of impacts. The report noted a lack of ‘universal gold standard for anti-THB initiatives to be implemented in a particularly effective and impactful fashion’ resulting in a situation where, for example, ‘…mass media campaigns may increase people’s awareness regarding the problems of THB, but this may not necessarily be translated into changes in people’s daily and cultural behaviours that eventually lead them to boycotting labour and services produced through exploitation, or to actively monitor the incidence of THB in their environments’.

One of the problematic assumptions embedded in the statement above and, perhaps, reflecting the report’s own assertion about the lack of a ‘universal gold standard’, is that boycotting labour and services produced with the involvement of exploited labour would necessarily lead to lesser reliance on such labour without altering structural relations of labour exploitation within the context of increasingly globalised neoliberal economies.

In December 2018, the European Commission issued its second report on the progress made in the fight against trafficking in human beings. In setting out a range of measures to counter ‘the culture of impunity and [to prevent] trafficking in human beings’, the report allocated a specific role to members of the general public by suggesting that increased awareness would ‘target demand for services exacted from victims of trafficking’, and emphasising the need for ‘campaigns or educational programmes aimed at discouraging demand for sexual exploitation’. Despite identifying awareness-raising actions as a priority, the report provided no insights into what type of awareness it alluded to: awareness aimed at preventing unsuspecting citizens from becoming victims (within the context where almost half of the reported victims [44 per cent] were EU citizens); awareness aimed at enabling members of the general public to recognise and report suspected cases of trafficking or labour exploitation; or awareness aimed at turning the general public into ‘responsible’ consumer-citizens questioning the human (and environmental) cost of goods and services and demanding corrective actions from governments and businesses. Furthermore, the underlying implication of calling for more awareness-raising is that the current levels of public awareness are not achieving what they should (even though the ultimate goals of awareness-raising are rarely specified) and, therefore, more awareness-raising is needed. However, little is known and revealed about the extent to which the general public is aware of what human trafficking is; whether awareness translates into any meaningful action; and who is shaping public understanding and knowledge of human trafficking.

The study reviewed in this paper was carried out in 2013-2014—in the run up to the reporting period of the second European Commission report (covering the period 2015-2016). It relied on representative surveys of public opinion in Great Britain, Hungary and Ukraine which remains one of the trafficking routes from Eastern into Central and Western Europe. A key conclusion of this study is that although the majority of citizens are generally aware of what human trafficking is and consider it to be a problem of crime (rather than a broader human rights concern), they do not consider it to be a problem that affects them directly. Although a minority, a significant number of survey respondents in these three countries could not explain what human trafficking was. This finding raises a question about the extent to which such a lack of knowledge may put citizens at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking, or render them unable to identify and report victims as they go about their daily lives.

Despite a number of methodological and conceptual limitations, including a relatively limited ‘shelf-life’ of opinion polls, the survey analysis presented in this paper responds to the following two broad questions:

(a) What does the general public know about human trafficking, and what are the underlying attitudes?

(b) What is missing from the public understanding of trafficking as a problem?

Full analysis is under this link

Study prepared by Kiril Sharapov – Associate Professor of Applied Social Sciences at Edinburgh Napier University.

Anti-Trafficking Review, issue 13, 2019, pp. 30-49, https://doi.org/10.14197/atr.201219133