Sea to Sea: Voices from the Canadian Anti-Trafficking Community – Part III

Written by Julia Smith-Brake


I love research. I love literature reviews and methodology and bibliographies. I love engaging is discussion about research and seeing programs change or begin based on good research. It may seem obvious that the counter-trafficking sector (like any other social justice or development sector) needs professional, scientific research, but we often forego this “step” in an attempt to address problems quickly. Not necessarily well, but quickly.

So why can’t we see research as a response to human trafficking? Maybe because of the unfortunate divide between academics and practitioners, a gap that often means research does not reach the field, and practitioners feel research does not represent their reality. Maybe because it is difficult for practitioners to know which research is good and which is irrelevant, and lack the time and motivation to distinguish and access relevant research. 

But what if we were able to see the most relevant and up to date and most recommended research by others in the field. What if we were able to let others know we had read a game-changing piece that could contribute to providing better care, better policies, and better services to victims and survivors of trafficking? Sharing research, especially practitioner research, is a good way to go about exploring and providing relevant information to other organizations because it is based in an assumption that action will stem out of the research. Research is imperative to the counter-trafficking movement, especially at this juncture, because we need to reflect well on what has led the movement to this point and how we can learn from past successes and failures, what responses have worked and which ones haven’t, and how lessons from other sectors can inform our way forward. 

In 2008, a small but significant research study was conducted in Cambodia called “I thought it could never happen to boys,” revealing not only the sex exploitation of boys in Cambodia, but also that there were almost no services for this victim group. Out of that research was born a new organisation focusing solely on boys’ issues of sexual exploitation and trafficking, a new program for boys in an existing organisation, and a working group of practitioners from various organisations to discuss and address issues specific to boys in the sector. What an amazing outcome of research! In Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation body of research that has come out in the past couple of years have greatly contributed to where Canadian organisations and government bodies need to focus their work.

If we begin to see research as a response to trafficking, in the continuum of responses including prevention, intervention and others, we may be able to integrate it more holistically into our work. If we are continually going back to research and allowing it to inform and challenge our preconceptions and frameworks, won’t our programs be more relevant and better suited to the needs of those we serve?

Julia Smith-Brake has worked in counter-trafficking in Cambodia and Canada since 2008. She is a founding member of Chab Dai Canada and serves as secretary of the board. She is currently working in economic resilience and research in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.