Expanding Circles of Failure: The Rise of Bad Anti-Trafficking, and What to Do About It

By Jonathan Mendel and Kiril Sharapov - 18 November 2021
Expanding Circles of Failure: The Rise of Bad Anti-Trafficking, and What to Do About It

This is part of a forthcoming Global Policy e-book on modern slavery. Contributions from leading experts highlighting practical and theoretical issues surrounding the persistence of slavery, human trafficking and forced labour are being serialised here over the coming months.

The anti-trafficking movement has been able to expand and impact on ever-broader circles of life in spite of – and often because of – a failure to achieve its stated goals. These goals are broadly encapsulated within the much-lauded 4P ‘anti-trafficking paradigm’ – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnership – which, in turn, responds to the ‘master-narrative’ of human trafficking: the belief that ‘Trafficking in persons is on the rise, and it depends largely on legal shortcomings and thus demands the strengthening of laws and support for NGOs’ (Lindquist 2013: 320).  Within these broad parameters, the whole anti-trafficking eco-system or, as some (Kapur 2017, Agustin 2008, Kempadoo 2015) argue, ‘industry’ has continued to grow: anti-trafficking ‘researcher-evaluator-consultants’ gain currency by making sensationalist statements based on anecdote and misinformation rather than evidence, linking human trafficking to terrorism, money-laundering, ISIS, Boko Haram and, recently, QAnon, and offering anti-trafficking workshops, trainings, accreditations and certificates.

With that in mind this article will discuss some examples of this expansion, focussing on ineffective and harmful anti-trafficking, including ineffective awareness-raising, poor-quality anti-trafficking apps, and harmful enforcement action. We call for two responses to this: firstly, a defunding of the anti-trafficking industry (alongside investment in more effective responses to trafficking and exploitation); secondly, where an anti-trafficking approach is the best option (as opposed to, for example, a focus on workers’ rights, migrants’ rights, or wealth redistribution), there should be more critical appraisal of which approaches work, and which do not.

While there has been some increase in effort at evaluating ‘what works’ in anti-trafficking (see for example Bryant and Landman’s 2020 summary) such research is limited by its failure to give enough attention to what does not work, by the limited evidence available to assess what is or is not working, and by the limited apparent benefits of interventions which are classed as ‘working’. In evidence evaluation in medicine, ‘do not do’ lists (see, for example, NICE 2021) are sometimes used to discourage pointless and harmful interventions. In the context of anti-trafficking, there is a need for critical work that draws on extensive and growing experience of failure to highlight what does not work and – ultimately – build knowledge of what approaches to avoid.

Ineffective and harmful anti-trafficking

This article was inspired by several critical pieces published by Vice on the US-based anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad (OUR). OUR was set up in 2013 to ‘bring an end to child slavery’ (OUR 2021); its modus operandi revolves around self-assigned undercover raids and ‘sting’ operations to rescue ‘exotic victims from the ‘darkest corners of the world’ (Nagaishi 2015, Quirk & O’Connell Davidson 2015). The organisation claims to have ‘rescued...thousands of survivors in 28 countries and 26 U.S. states’ (OUR 2021) The ‘new abolitionism’ – a recent concept to capture the contentious nature of such ‘rescue missions’ (Kempadoo 2016) – draws on the ‘usual’ tropes of grassroots and, increasingly, state-sponsored anti-trafficking (to the detriment of engaging with structural issues), which, as Heynen and van der Meulen note (2021: 1) ‘build on melodramatic narratives of victims and (white) saviours, depoliticize the complex labour and migration issues at stake, reinforce capitalist logics, and enable policy interventions that produce harm for migrants, sex workers, and others ostensibly being “rescued.”

One of Vice’s (2021) reports discusses one such ‘sting operation’ in a remote village on the border of Haiti and Dominican Republic, which used a psychic medium to try to locate a missing and, allegedly, trafficked child. What is striking here is not so much that there is poor behaviour in the anti-trafficking industry but that, after a detailed account of harmful and ineffective aspects of the OUR’s action, Vice reported that ‘OUR's future seems, by all appearances, to be bright’ with the organisation’s external funding (described as ‘contributions and grants’ and as reported to the USA’s Inland Revenue Service) increasing from less than a million US dollars in 2013 (OUR 2013) to almost 7 million in 2016 (OUR 2016), and 22 million in 2019 (OUR 2019). (1)

This is a striking example of one issue in the anti-trafficking movement: there is little apparent action taken to curtail ineffective or harmful activity whilst individuals and organisations are often satisfied to be ‘doing something’ or ‘doing more’ (of the same), even where there is no good reason to think that what they are doing is beneficial nor any robust appraisal of risks and harms from such anti-trafficking actions (see Mendel and Sharapov 2020). There is currently inadequate pushback against anti-trafficking activity that is actively harmful or is a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. With this in mind, we outline and discuss some key categories of ineffective and harmful anti-trafficking below.

Harmful enforcement-focussed anti-trafficking

An enforcement-focussed approach to anti-trafficking brings clear risks and potential harms. In a UK context, Mustafa Dawood’s case is one prominent example of this. In July 2018, UK media reported on a tragic death of Mustafa Dawood, a man who fled the Darfur region of Sudan, and who died in Newport,  Wales while trying to escape immigration officers who were carrying out a raid at a hand car wash (BBC 2018). In their critical appraisal of the state and immigration regimes’ role in creating human vulnerability to abuse and exploitation, Martins Junior and O’Connell Davison (2021) argue that people who the anti-slavery activists tend to describe as ‘modern slaves’ – making parallels to the transatlantic slavery – have far more similarities to maroons  - runway or fugitive enslaved persons within the context of the transatlantic slave trade. For Martins Junior and O’Connell Davison, ‘Mustafa Dawood risked and lost his life not because he was naïve or ill informed or had been told lies by employers to control him, but because he knew what would happen if he was found working in the car wash… Like many other migrants and asylum seekers found working illegally in hand car washes in recent years, the chances are he would have been taken to a detention centre and eventually deported’.

Nonetheless, enforcement against this type of activity is often uncritically seen as a virtuous, philanthropic thing to do: for example, the ‘anti-trafficking’ Car Wash app, where members of the public can report their suspicions about potential ‘modern slaves’ washing their cars, has been described as ‘a valuable weapon the public can wield in the fight against modern slavery’ (Motoring Research 2019). The narrow ways in which complex phenomena such as human trafficking, informality and forced labour are defined in law and operationalised in policy do not tell the whole story of exploitation, disadvantage and marginalisation (Sharapov 2017: 529). Many migrants (authorised or not) do work in exploitative situations and their migration journeys - which take place within a specific context of increasingly restrictive and racialised regimes of border control and migration management (FitzGerald 2016, Sharma 2017) – often make them more vulnerable to exploitation. However, efforts to ‘rescue’ them by raiding their places of work and detaining them and/or deporting them back to situations they often strongly desired to leave may cause greater harm and make them even more vulnerable. A focus on anti-trafficking enforcement as a solution to the varied exploitation faced by many workers may make it harder to see the potential of other approaches like enhancing the rights of migrant workers (or all workers, including citizens who are exploited without crossing any borders) or challenging increasingly restrictive border control and immigration policies.

Wasteful awareness-raising

Awareness-raising campaigns are often wasteful activities, where efficacy may be unknown or under-evaluated or – worse – where there is good evidence that they will not be useful. In her assessment of the wastefulness of human trafficking awareness campaigns, Dina Haynes (2019) argues that ‘it is now well established in marketing sciences that after seeing a ‘short spot’ on human trafficking – such as a public service advertisement or poster – a majority of people can feel subconsciously satisfied with what they have contributed to the cause, with no further action undertaken on their part. Awareness campaigns can therefore make people feel good without asking much if anything in terms of a real contribution.’ (2)

In June 2021, at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe‘s annual Alliance against Trafficking in Persons Conference, Helga Gayer, President of the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings) noted that despite ‘numerous examples of countries which have targeted demand through awareness raising campaigns often organized by civil society… the impact of such measures is rarely measured’ (OSCE 2021). Referring to a project in Ireland, which attempted to raise awareness amongst potential buyers of sexual services of the harm caused by demand for sexual services, she noted that ‘…awareness raising campaigns alone are likely to produce limited results and changes of behaviour’ (ibid). The 2015 report by the European Commission on prevention initiatives on trafficking in human beings attempted to systematically evaluate the impact of anti-trafficking actions, including public awareness campaigns (European Commission 2015). This research examined 43 prevention initiatives projects, 85% of which included information and awareness-raising activities. The report identified significant gaps in evaluating the impact of these externally funded activities suggesting that the project-level evaluation was akin to monitoring the delivery of the project rather than assessing the extent to which the objectives (including increasing awareness) were achieved. The report noted that even though ‘…mass media campaigns may increase people’s awareness regarding the problems of THB…this may not necessarily be translated into changes in people’s daily and cultural behaviours’ (2015: 30).

It is unfortunate for charities and governments to use their resources on activities that either lack evidence of efficacy or where there is evidence of ineffectiveness.  Worse, ‘awareness-raising’ campaigns may actually contribute to public, practitioner and politicians’ ignorance about trafficking (Mendel and Sharapov 2016; 2020).There are a number of false assumptions underlying much awareness-raising: (a) that it is possible to reduce awareness and understanding of the complexity of human trafficking to a simple binary state of aware – unaware; (b) that such awareness translates into an equally ambiguous and ill-defined ‘behaviour change’ (from not buying ‘fast fashion’ items to curbing one’s own ‘sexual addictions’); and (c) that such behaviour change would necessarily lead to less reliance on exploitative labour, even in the absence of changes to structural relations of labour exploitation within the context of increasingly globalised neoliberal economies (Sharapov et al 2019).

Further critical accounts/research exist on the ‘ideal victims’/’ideal criminals’ tropes underlying much of the anti-trafficking awareness-raising campaigns. However, the aforementioned assumption that awareness-raising is intrinsically virtuous means there is very little research available on the potential harms of such awareness raising: from obfuscating the true nature of exploitative relations in the minds of ‘consumer-citizens’ (Mendel and Sharapov 2020; Sharapov 2016) to more concrete harms. Sardina (2019), for example, discusses a range of dangerous and damaging impacts of particular types of anti-trafficking awareness-raising on those ‘who labour in alternative economies that the laws do not protect’, including sex workers. Discussing the impact of awareness campaigns within the context of child domestic work in South-West Nigeria, Olayiwola (2019) argues that: ‘By ignoring such structural constraints, awareness creation creates doubts and uncertainties for the general public about the difficulties faced by children in domestic service and/or their parents’.

Given the above, there should be considerable caution about whether money or resources used in awareness-raising are likely to have any benefit, and there is a need to move from the common assumption that awareness-raising is a ‘good thing to do’ to the presumption that awareness-raising in general is probably not a useful activity. While particular awareness-raising activities may be beneficial (for example, to focus on a particular target audience), this utility is something that should be evidenced rather than simply assumed. Where awareness-raising is still done, this should be combined with a needs analysis and with independent monitoring and assessment of impacts – to mitigate the high risk of waste and to inform future practice. To generate a sector-wide guide to good and poor practice, there should be a presumption in favour of making these assessments public. However, doing research should not be used as a justification for continuing with awareness-raising where there is already good evidence that it is ineffective.

Poor legislative practice: FOSTA-SESTA

FOSTA-SESTA is a particularly striking example of poor practice, in that the legislation offers an inversion of what is commonly seen as good practice in the development and implementation of evidence-informed policy. In the US, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) became law in 2018; their “stated goal was to reduce human trafficking by amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and holding Internet platforms accountable for the content their users post” (Blunt and Wolf 2020). The legislation was presented as targeting websites’ and platforms’ alleged facilitating of and profiting from sex trafficking. Musto et al. (2021: 3) describe it as “the latest legislative iteration of the U.S. anti-trafficking movement’s enduring neo-abolitionist and sexual humanitarian approach refashioned in networked form”. Unsurprisingly, given this history, harms from this legislation were predicted prior to its passage. As Musto et al. (2021: 2) note, criticisms of the dominant narrative around the legislation were prominently made, and opponents of the legislation organised effectively. Whereas the hope is that evidence-informed policy making can review the existing evidence and respond to what is known about the likely impacts of policy change, in the case of FOSTA/SESTA there was clear evidence of harm from the proposed legislation and a lack of plausible ways in which this legislation might effectively challenge sex trafficking or sexual exploitation. Nonetheless, FOSTA/SESTA became law with bipartisan political support.

By making it possible to prosecute websites for engaging “in the promotion or facilitation of prostitution” or facilitating “traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims”, this legislation has had considerable negative impact on sex workers in the US and elsewhere. Following the law’s passage – and even before its full implementation – sex workers felt its impact as websites began to eliminate platforms previously used to advertise services. For example, YourDominatrix.com stopped “U.S. listings, with a note saying this was ‘due to a recent bill passed by Congress’” (McCormick, 2018) (3). Blunt and Wolf’s (2020) participatory research with and survey of sex workers found a number of harms, including: reduced income and more financial instability; harm reduction (including the use of tools like ‘bad date’ lists) becoming more difficult; and both online communities and financial technologies becoming more inaccessible. In ethnographic work that reflects on the harms of FOSTA/SESTA and other law and policy, Musto et al. (2021: 15) argue that “there is an inversely proportional relationship between the criminalization faced by migrant sex workers and their ability to access justice, assert their rights, and live their lives”. In contrast to the evidence of harm, there is no convincing evidence of this legislation being an effective response to sex trafficking or exploitation, and the impacts noted above make sex workers more vulnerable to exploitation.

In evidence-informed policy making, one would hope that legislation and policy is evaluated after implementation – so that benefits and harms can be assessed, and this can inform practice elsewhere. However, despite evidence of harm, FOSTA/SESTA is often presented in a positive way (indeed, the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation sees this as something to emulate). In an odd kind of inversion of conventional hopes of how evidence might inform policy, we see legislation implemented and presented as an example to emulate despite clear evidence that it would be and has been harmful and ineffective. The circles of anti-trafficking action expand through the failure of legislation to meet its stated goals.

Poor use of technology: anti-trafficking apps

Technology is often used badly in anti-trafficking. Anti-trafficking apps are one striking example of this. In 2017, we analysed 63 mobiles applications (apps) which could be described as anti-trafficking apps (Mendel and Sharapov 2020). We found that ‘a significant number of apps (some of which received public funding)…had a very small number of downloads; a lot of apps also did not work, which often involved important functionality like “report trafficking” forms being out-of-date. It was often unclear what apps were aiming to achieve beyond things that, for example, a well-designed website might do. " It is quite understandable that some app launches fail, and some projects do not develop as hoped. However, we found issues in most of the apps in our sample, and found no evidence of appraisal of such failure or any evidence of critical actions taken in response to this.  We also found that the functionality of apps varied with some apps offering a variety of features, including reporting suspected victims of trafficking or traffickers (including photo uploads) with very little information provided on what happens with this information, where the data are stored, processed and who these data are passed on to.

In reviewing this hodgepodge of apps, we raised the questions of potential harm from technical responses to trafficking. For example, the TraffickCam app is promoted as a way of ‘rescuing’ trafficked people by identifying hotel rooms in online adverts for sexual services. However, there are concerns that this might be used against sex workers (Romero-Alston et al. 2021: 7). One might also note that – even where the app (like TraffickCam or CarWash) may lead law enforcement agencies to trafficked people – it is far from clear that this would be to their benefit. Despite the proclamations of its unwavering commitment to justice and human rights and combatting ‘modern slavery’, the UK Government’s approach towards identified victims of trafficking can be summarised as: ‘Liberate’ and Deport. As of May 2021, ‘Nearly 3,000 people identified as potential victims of trafficking [in the UK] have been detained since 2019 due to their immigration status… In law, detention may be used only when there is the intention to remove a person from the UK’ (Taylor 2021). Back in 2003, the English Collective of Prostitutes suggested that ‘…anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives are most often used to deport women’ (ECP 2003). The situation has since worsened, with the number of deportations set to increase following the recent approval of changes to the Home Office rules which made it easier for the UK immigration enforcement to detain (and deport) trafficking victims. More needs to be done to challenge the purported power of technology to liberate ‘slaves’ and to incarcerate ‘criminals’ by examining the real damage done by such technology in the name of narrow yet grant-generating interpretation of human trafficking as ‘slave trade’.

The increasing number of problematic practices, outcomes, activities associated with anti-trafficking work has not yet been accompanied by any increase in appraisal of, accountability for and responsibility for its outcomes. Indeed, as discussed above, there is sometimes an odd type of inversion of evidence-informed policy making where the failures of anti-trafficking are used to argue for its expansion. We argue elsewhere that understandings of trafficking in policy discourses often focus too much on the micro- and meso-scale of crime and victimisation, without considering broader structural aspects of exploitation (Mendel and Sharapov 2016). However, what remains striking here is that ineffective and harmful anti-trafficking takes place at scales ranging from very local awareness-raising or small charities releasing an app, to legislation and policy like FOSTA-SESTA with a major international impact. Such activity is able to expand regardless of – and sometimes facilitated by – its failures. Critical anti-trafficking thus also needs to operate on and critique poor practice across a broad range of scales.

Defund the anti-trafficking industry

There is currently a resurgence of interest in moves to defund the police, and in abolitionist approaches to policing and the broader criminal justice system (see for example Akbar 2020; Chua 2020; Coyle and Schwept 2018; Davis 2005; Gilmore 2007; Herzing and Ontiveros 2011; McDowell and Fernandez 2018; Monford and Taylor 2021). Vitale‘s (2017: chapter 6) analysis of modern policing as a tool of social control sets out a detailed account of the failures of policing sex work and the failures of police action to target sex trafficking. Mac and Smith (2020: 488) go beyond a call for defunding sex work-specific policing and revoking sex work-specific laws to argue that ‘[w]here police still retain power over sex workers via routes other than prostitution law (for example, the prosecution of migrants or those in possession of drugs), they abuse it’. Vitale (2017: 96) draws attention to how the evolving models of policing ‘inflict tremendous harm on some of the most vulnerable people in our society’ and calls for these areas of policing to be defunded. Building on this work on defunding and abolition, we would argue for less reliance on law enforcement responses to human trafficking and broader exploitation: there is considerable risk of harm, and such responses cannot address structural issues which lead to exploitation. Alongside this, though, we would also emphasise that community-based approaches do not necessarily offer a ‘good’ solution to these issues. In the context of anti-trafficking, we would argue for a move beyond a focus on defunding the police – instead, the aim should be to defund much anti-trafficking policing (including by non-police actors) and other ineffective and/or harmful anti-trafficking activity. The aim should be to defund the anti-trafficking industry.

Firstly, this should mean a defunding of ineffective and harmful enforcement-based anti-trafficking. In particular, a raids-based approach lacks evidence of efficacy and can lead to state and other actors directly deploying violence against trafficked and exploited people. The risks of this approach extend to the death of the people being ‘rescued’ or, more commonly, the detention and deportation of people in ways that can worsen their situation. Given the significant risk of harm – alongside the expensive nature of much enforcement – particularly robust evidence of benefit should be required before money is spent on such enforcement.

Secondly, where organisations are currently using public and/or charitable money for awareness raising and doing so in ineffective and/or harmful ways, there is no reason to continue funding such activity. We suggest that awareness-raising should largely be deprioritised; where awareness-raising is needed, the poor previous record of many anti-trafficking organisations should be a strong argument against them receiving funds to do this work.  Any future awareness-raising should include focus on the complexity of individual circumstances and individual responses to the structural inequality, poverty and discrimination which push individuals into exploitation. The priority target groups for this type of awareness campaigns should not be the amorphous ‘general public’ but groups such as health and medical professionals, judicial authorities, social services – which are often the key points of contact for individuals who need support and assistance – or populations particularly vulnerable to trafficking.  

Thirdly, public money should not be used to develop and implement new anti-trafficking laws and policies without first having good reason to think that they will work. The resources poured into developing and implementing FOSTA/SESTA have only succeeded in making things worse for vulnerable groups. There is also a significant opportunity cost here. There are real possibilities for legislation to challenge exploitative working conditions in the US and/or to improve conditions for sex workers – for example, legislation might strengthen trade union rights, decriminalise sex work, or try using approaches such as a basic income to address financial vulnerability – but instead time in the Senate and Congress was used to make things worse.

Additionally, much of the development and deployment of anti-trafficking technology should be defunded. A lot of this is intended (even if it works exactly as hoped) to be used for ineffective or harmful activity like the raids or awareness-raising discussed above. Moreover, as we found when looking at anti-trafficking apps, much anti-trafficking technology simply does not work well – for example, an awareness-raising app that almost no-one uses is not going to work even just to raise awareness. The poor design of some apps risks serious harms (for example, the leak of sensitive information). There is a real need to critically appraise the likely harms and benefits of technologies such as apps before spending money on them, to think about the broader social context of the technologies, and to consider whether this is the most effective use of the money. While there clearly are opportunities to use technology to challenge exploitation, one should also be aware of the risk of being seduced by more novel and ‘exciting’ technical solutions to issues where a lower-tech solution might be more effective. It remains the case that, as Musto and boyd (2014:477) argue, addressing exploitation “requires far more low-tech solutions; specifically, political will and agitation for redistributive justice, the hardest assets to find”.

While we argue for defunding the anti-trafficking industry, this does not mean that we think less money or less effort should go towards addressing exploitation and vulnerability. Indeed, people are made vulnerable to exploitation in ways which need to be addressed through redistributive justice, and we support broader social campaigns to challenge exploitation, strengthen workers’ and migrants’ rights and resist the ways that discrimination and stigma can make some groups more vulnerable. Some of this funding might be redistributed to more effective anti-trafficking organisations and activities – for example, some of the projects by La Strada International which focus on specific groups for a specific purpose. In its ‘Rights at Work!’ project (2017), the key focus was on trade unions and labour organisations to help them better identify and reach precarious sectors with low levels of labour organisation, as an anti-trafficking prevention measure. Some of this funding might go to address problems of vulnerability and exploitation in ways that are not framed as anti-trafficking – for example, to fund activists protecting workers’ rights, or as part of broader redistributive efforts to address financial vulnerability (such as cash transfers to impoverished people and communities, or basic income initiatives).


The anti-trafficking industry has been able to expand in spite of – and sometimes because of – a lack of evidence of efficacy for many practices, and clear evidence of harm. In an inversion of evidence-informed policy processes, policies such as FOSTA/SESTA are implemented despite prior evidence that they are likely to be worse-than-useless; when post-implementation evaluations show that these policies are harmful, the fact of their implementation is used to argue for these policies to be emulated elsewhere. Such a miserable situation demands radical responses.

As a first step, the anti-trafficking industry should be defunded. Alongside this – and using the money saved by this defunding – there should be a refunding of more effective responses to exploitation: both through more critical and evidence-based anti-trafficking, and through activity to challenge exploitation that is not framed as anti-trafficking. Thakor and boyd (2013: 284) note the growth of anti-trafficking networks, while Musto et al. (2021) argue that this is leading to ‘Networked Moral Gentrification and Sexual Humanitarian Creep’. A strong and well-networked critical anti-trafficking sector will be important to challenge these aspects of the networked anti-trafficking industry.

Sadly, in recent decades major parts of the anti-trafficking industry – and many large anti-trafficking organisations - have achieved little, and have particularly failed to challenge root causes of trafficking such as inequality, poverty, violence and discrimination. Alongside trying to determine what works in anti-trafficking, there is a real need for critical reflection on this substantial experience of (and continuing investment into) failure – in order to determine what does not work, and to determine whether some approaches are so unpromising that further research into them would be wasteful and unethical. Echoing practices around evidence-based medicine, there is a real need for ‘do not do’ lists in anti-trafficking.

More broadly, we would restate our argument (Mendel and Sharapov 2016) for more emphasis on addressing structural aspects of exploitation. No amount of awareness raising or enforcement could hope to address the way that international capitalism impoverishes many and relies on exploitative working conditions. Defunding the anti-trafficking industry should absolutely not be used to shift focus away from exploitation nor to move resources away from challenging exploitation; instead, this defunding needs to open up space for more politically radical and economically redistributive responses to exploitation.



Jonathan is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Dundee. He researches questions around policy, information and evidence, with a particular focus on online spaces. Recent and ongoing projects investigate online state surveillance, the right of access to environmental information, and engagement between police and seldom heard communities. Jonathan’s work on human trafficking (co-authored with Kiril Sharapov) has developed agnotological approaches to studying technology, trafficking and anti-trafficking, throughdiscussing topics such as anti-trafficking apps and docufictions.

Kiril is Associate Professor at the School of Applied Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, Associate Director at the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science, and Convenor of the Migration and Mobilities Research Network. He is a scholar of forced migration and is recognised internationally for his research on public understanding of trafficking in human beings. In 2013 - 2014, he undertook a European Union funded study (FP7) to explore public understanding of human trafficking in Ukraine, Hungary and the United Kingdom generating, for the first time ever, representative datasets of how the general public in these three countries understand and respond to the phenomena of human trafficking. His subsequent work (co-authored with Jonathan Mendel) interrogated media and policy representations of human trafficking and, recently, its online dimensions. As a human rights activist and advocate, he is currently involved in three research projects investigating the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable communities: refugees and asylum seekers in the UK housed in temporary accommodation, Syrian refugees in Scotland, and internally displaced people with disabilities in Ukraine.

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels



(1) It is possible that subsequent critical coverage may impact OUR’s future ‘success’, but this does not currently appear to have had this impact (see here).

(2) We argue (Sharapov and Mendel 2018) that the idea of interpassivity is helpful for understanding some anti-trafficking activity – people feel reassured that something or someone else (whether an app or a video or a poster or a ‘rescuer’) is active in their place, in much the same way as one might feel satisfied by owning but not viewing a DVD, as if the DVD player watches it in one’s place.  This might be pleasant for the viewer of an anti-trafficking campaign, but is of no wider public benefit and is a poor use of government or charity funds.

(3) See Mendel and Sharapov (2020) and Peterson et al. (2019).

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