A Complex Systems Stratagem to Combating Human Trafficking

  • Marcel van der WattEmail author
Living reference work entry


Human trafficking as a complex phenomenon leaves no country unscathed as perpetrators continue to conjure up new schemes to subvert and circumvent efforts by the international counter-trafficking community. The challenges associated with effectively responding to the crime, whether through research or prevention, or taking a case from a crime scene to court involve multiple and interpenetrating social systems and human actors with different perspectives, skill sets, mandates, and objectives. Their interactions are numerous, interdependent, and causally indeterminate which give rise to environments characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). This chapter will make a case for complex systems thinking, as a conceptual framework, to be interwoven in counter-trafficking activities by policymakers, researchers, activists, prosecutors, and police investigators (to name but a few) who are effectively engaged in a battle of wits against the human trafficking system that perpetrates the crime. The author’s policing and investigative exposure to and work in the field of counter-human trafficking over the past 16 years, and his use of complex systems theory in a Ph.D. study, serves as the basis for this chapter. The chapter will contend that complex systems theory, and by extension complex systems thinking, has immense potential to alter our thinking about micro-level strategies and can explain how foundational interactions and interconnectedness give rise to emergent properties on a macro-level, which are not predictable from the parts alone. It is recommended that reductionist responses and “fixes that fail” are set aside in favor of a whole approach to human trafficking combating efforts that are better equipped to embrace complexity.


Systems theory Complexity theory Complex systems theory Human trafficking response mechanisms Criminal investigation Prosecution 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Police PracticeUniversity of South AfricaPretoriaSouth Africa

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