Using Law Enforcement Data in Trafficking Research

Living reference work entry


Law enforcement data are a promising and largely untapped resource for academic research into human trafficking. Better use of such data can help inform and expand an evidence-based approach to counter-trafficking policy and practice. Authored by academics and a senior law enforcement practitioner, this chapter provides rare and important insights into the theoretical, practical, legal, and ethical considerations around using law enforcement data in human trafficking research. Its discussions should prove useful to researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers interested in understanding and tackling human trafficking more effectively. The chapter begins with a critical appraisal of the human trafficking literature, highlighting particular gaps, imbalances, and weaknesses. The stage is then set to explore the utility and applications of a long-neglected but empirically rich source of data on human trafficking: those that law enforcement agencies generate and/or hold. The limitations of law enforcement data are made explicit, and their benefits are explored, with reference to relevant human trafficking studies and innovative research into other crimes. Key considerations are addressed around the actual process of using law enforcement data, drawing on the authors’ experiences as researchers and a research enabler and a data provider. This section is informed in particular by four recent human trafficking studies in which the authors were involved, all of which used sensitive and hard-to-access law enforcement data. These innovative studies spanned both small- and large-scale datasets; qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method enquiries; internal and international trafficking movements; and some of the main variants of human trafficking: sex trafficking, trafficking for domestic servitude, and labor trafficking across diverse licit and illicit labor markets.


Human trafficking Modern slavery Evidence-based policy Evidence-based policing Crime prevention Labor trafficking Sex trafficking Domestic servitude Child sexual exploitation Forced labor Labor exploitation Trafficking data Trafficking research methods Law enforcement data Trafficking investigations Trafficking prosecutions 



The following agencies’ invaluable contributions to the research in the case studies are gratefully acknowledged: Bedfordshire Constabulary; Derbyshire Constabulary; Gloucestershire Constabulary; Greater Manchester Police; Hampshire Constabulary; Lancashire Constabulary; South Yorkshire Police; West Mercia Police; Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service; and the National Crime Agency. We are also grateful to our section editor, Masja van Meeteren, for her insightful comments on an earlier draft. Our final thanks go to the studies’ funders: the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). This chapter was written under Ella Cockbain’s ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellowship (grant reference: ES/K008463/1).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Security and Crime ScienceUniversity College London (UCL)LondonUK
  2. 2.Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking UnitNational Crime AgencyLondonUK

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