While much research and literature exists about trafficking victims, far less is known about the persons responsible for their exploitation. A clearer picture of how traffickers operate is vital in efforts to prevent and combat the crime of human trafficking and can be used in the development of criminal justice and social welfare responses to human trafficking – informing policies, strategies and interventions. To date, much of what is known about trafficking and traffickers is drawn from information provided by trafficking victims. Because trafficked persons are key witnesses to events in the trafficking process, there are substantial strengths to victim-derived data. At the same time, there are some significant limitations to this type of information. This paper discusses some of the fault lines involved in understanding traffickers and trafficking operations through the lens of trafficked persons and their individual trafficking experiences. These limitations make clear that an improved understanding of traffickers and trafficking operations requires looking beyond victim-derived datasets to other information sources, including research with traffickers themselves. This paper concludes with a discussion on recent research efforts on traffickers and trafficking, which signal potential ways forward of improving research on this significant human rights issue and crime. These include in particular drawing on criminal justice data sets as well as engaging directly with persons involved in trafficking, each of which affords important insight into various aspects of the “other side” of human trafficking. These studies also make clear that such research is not only possible but also essential to a thorough and holistic understanding of trafficking.

Table of contents: 
  • Executive summary
    • 1. Introduction
    • 2. Research on traffickers and trafficking: Knowns and unknowns
    • 3. What victims can tell us about traffickers and trafficking
    • 4. What victims cannot (or will not) tell us about traffickers
    • 5. Undertaking trafficker-centred research
    • 6. Conclusion
    • 7. References cited