Self Identification of Victims of Human Trafficking

This research investigates the use of ICTs to empower the situated agency of potential victims of human trafficking, to enable them to identify themselves to frontline responders and enhance their conditions.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 21 million people in situations of human trafficking, with 68% of these occurring within supply chains of private sector industries, and 22% in situations of sexual exploitation. In their 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, the US State Department reported that in 2016, 0.3% of the total estimated victims were identified (66,520 people). Related work has shown that traffickers isolate potential victims from online as well as offline networks, so a question that this research seeks to understand is what ICTs could be leveraged to allow migrant workers to self-identify as victims of human trafficking.

To understand how ICTs can be leveraged to support potential victims, this research aims to answer the following questions:

  1. How do NGOs and front line responders currently identify victims of human trafficking, and what problems do they believe there are in this method?
  2. What access do potential victims, NGOs and frontline responders have to ICTs, and what factors enable and constrain their use?
  3. What ICT tools would enhance migrant workers situated agency and enable them to self-identify as a victim of human trafficking?

This research uses an iterative approach, following the basic flow of needs assessment, technology development, monitoring and evaluation, and then subsequent redesign. For the pilot investigation, the target group consists of migrant workers in vulnerable situations in Thailand.

Different methodologies are adopted across this research to address the following research objectives:

  1. Identify through a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods, the community’s needs and goals. This mixed method approach will be used as it has been shown to improve trustworthiness, reliability, and transferability of results
  2. Develop through participatory methods, innovative solutions to support migrant workers to identify and seek help
  3. Undertake capacity building with NGOs and front line responders on the use of technology to support migrant workers
  4. Monitor and evaluate the use of these innovative solutions to support the situated agency of migrant workers in exploitative work environments

As part of the migrant technology project, this research also seeks to contribute to a broader understanding of the use of ICTs by migrant workers in vulnerable situations, to empower their situated agency and change their overall working conditions.


Human Trafficking, ICTs, Self Identification, Situated Agency

UNU Institute in Macau TEAM
Hannah Thinyane, Karthik Bhat


This project is part of the Digital Peace Lab and the Gender Tech Lab.