Combatting Human Trafficking Through International Investigations

A lot of news (the good kind) has been coming out recently about rescue operations to help free victims of human trafficking. International Justice Mission (IJM) has had a particularly successful month. Most of these rescue operations come about after tireless investigations by unnamed heroes.

International Investigations and How they Work

International investigations happen a lot of ways, but usually involve a non-profit working with officials to investigate a trafficking crime occurring in a developing nation.

The organization helps and supports local law enforcement to rescue trafficking victims and arrest perpetrators. In the case of IJM, the staff in the developing country is almost entirely local; only a few people from outside of the country take part.

The process has at times come under fire for being patronizing to developing countries and an insensitive use of American power. Advocates claim that it uses American non-profit aid but rests on local authority. They also argue that the operations save victims from further atrocities and help to create more just systems in countries that might not otherwise have resources in place to stop trafficking.

These rescue missions only happen after a huge amount of effort from a wide range of people. Last week I got to hear from Jeffrey Blom, who worked for IJM on international investigations and now works with an anti-trafficking group focused on Nepal.

He gave some insight into the challenges of international investigations that he’s experienced and what it takes for them to come together successfully. I took notes so you don’t have to.

Corruption and Apathy in the Mix

According to Blom, corruption is “probably the single largest barrier” to stopping human trafficking worldwide. Approximately 75% of his international investigations ended early due to tip-offs from the inside. Sometimes law enforcement in the struggling countries will accept bribes to cover their otherwise low pay. In some cases, they will cover up the crimes because of a connection to the brothel in question.

Apathy also affects the investigations. Some of the law enforcement involved don’t recognize the girls or boys as victims. They assume the children are prostitutes and thus complicit.

The Steps of an International Investigation
  • Identify the victim

    Often a long process. It can take weeks or months for a trafficker to introduce investigators to a trafficking victim.

  • Gather evidence

    To gather evidence, investigators will purchase a victim and take him or her out for an interview. They will ask questions and then pay before taking the evidence to the police.

    In the case of a child not speaking English, Blom described playing games to pass time, before going to the police afterward to turn in whatever evidence he could get.

    Investigators have to prove 3 things:

    1.  The victim is underage or forced – investigators have to use special interview tactics because the victims have been trained to lie about their age.
    2.  There must be a sex act involved – for this investigators can get the pimp to describe their services.
    3.  There must be an exchange of money – Investigators negotiate and pay money on a hidden camera.

  • Go in with police/law enforcement

    This is the official raid that sometimes gets press coverage.

  • Get victims to safety

    The rescuers have to figure out who the victim is and how he or she was trafficked. They are usually taken to a safe house for some time to get counseling and skills training. If it is safe for them to return home, they will later be restored to their families.

    In some cases the family is responsible for selling the victim. In other cases families will sacrifice great deals of money and travel across the country to pick up their lost child.

Every case is different, but these are some ways that investigations can come together. Thanks to Jeffrey Blom for all the information!

If you find this kind of thing interesting, and want to learn more about ending modern-day slavery, you should join me at DC Stop Modern Slavery. If you live elsewhere, find an abolition group there or start your own!

One Response to “Combatting Human Trafficking Through International Investigations”
  1. Thanks for posting this and raising awareness about this terrible reality.

    Please help us spread awareness by liking our blog and Facebook page. Please visit for more details.

    Thanks so much!


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