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Human trafficking and child sex trafficking

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5381 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the research of human trafficking, both in general and in child sex trafficking as a specific and crucial phenomenon. According to the U.S. Department of State (2007) trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises with an approximate number of 800.000 victims each year trafficked over international borders. Anti-trafficking campaigns and NGOs have mushroomed and anti-trafficking policies have become important features of both international development agencies and governmental agendas (Piper 2005:203). Largely, scholars have concentrated their research on South East Asia; a region which is often described as the hub of trafficking in persons, particularly for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Since the UN Transitional Authority period child sex trafficking and child sex tourism have been identified as a specific problems and Cambodia has become the focus of many UN activities. Child sex trafficking is described as relatively new phenomenon in Cambodia which did not exist before 1970 (Archivantitkul: 1998). The political and economic landscape of Cambodia as well as moral and social values have changed considerably in the last three decades since the Khmer Rouge regime. This fact makes Cambodia particularly vulnerable for people who seek to make a profit from the poverty of people who may be overwhelmed by the ongoing fast changing impacts which come to their country.

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South-East Asia has a large scale of undocumented labour migration. Those migrations flows are greatly facilitated by recruiters in destination and origin countries which can cause an exploitative situation. There is a fine line between the issues of migrant smuggling and trafficking and their distinctions are often blurred. Therefore, trafficking has to be seen as a part of migration flows (Piper 2005: 207).

Most of human trafficking activities in South East Asia, particularly in the Mekong sub-region, take place domestically and so one can refer more to a regional or national problem than to an international one (ibid.:204). This part of the issue should be considered carefully as different patterns such as globalisation and the socio-economic conditions play an important role and could make trafficking in Cambodia again an international problem considering the causes ( ibid.:205).

The definition of trafficking has changed considerably in the last number of decades and yet there is still no consensus about a universally valid definition (Laczko 2005: 10). The lack of a common definition together with the refusal of some states to recognise the existence of trafficking within their country makes it hard to combat this issue effectively on a global scale (Savona and Stefanizzi 2007: 2).

In 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons [1] , also known as the Palermo Protocol. The protocol offers for the first time a legally binding international definition of trafficking as the control of one person over another for the purpose of exploitation:

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the

prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Human trafficking and in particular child sex trafficking is considered by different scholars and studies (e.g. Williams and Masika 2002; Jana 2002; Asia Regional Cooperation to Prevent People Trafficking 2003) as a highly gendered topic. Despite the lack of research and accurate data on trafficking patterns, and it is clear that the majority of trafficking victims are women and girls (UNODC, 2006). Hence, one can say that trafficking is so often seen to be caused and facilitated by “unequal gender relations and patriarchal values and systems” (Williams and Masika 2002: 6). Undeniably, this creates of vulnerabilities and therefore human rights violations on women and children. Understanding the gender dimensions of this phenomenon is crucial to obtain a clear picture of the recruitment of trafficking victims up to the development of policy strategies and campaigns to combat these human rights violations.

1.1. The construction of the victim of child sex trafficking

Existing research as well as political and criminal justice activity has the tendency to focus on the offender and their identification and punishment, rather than considering the victims of sex trafficking as ‘equal players’. This reflects a traditional criminology research approach which is often criticised by victimology discourse (Goody 2005: 239).

Despite the large amount of literature and research which addresses child sex trafficking in Cambodia, there remains a gap about the conceptualisation of the victim of child sex trafficking. From a western perspective, victim conceptions are diverse which can be seen for instance in the “ideal victim” (Christie 1986) and in social constructivism views (e.g. Schütz 1962). Therefore it is also vital to consider the gender perspective of trafficking and the social role and construction of women and girls in the Cambodian society today in contrast to the past.

For a better understanding of the origin of the construction perceptions it is interesting to take a closer look at constructivism theory. The concept of the victim underlies a construction of a certain reality within a culture, a society and in particular an institution. Those constructions of realities can be seen in the light of constructivism which means the construction of social realities. The theory of social constructivism has been contributed to by Schütz (1962), Berger and Luckmann (1966) and Gergen (1985, 1999).

Regarding the construction of knowledge Schütz (1962: 5) argues that “(a)ll our knowledge of the world, in common sense as well as in scientific thinking, involves constructs, i.e. a set of abstractions, generalizations, formalizations, idealizations, specific to the relevant level of thought organization”. In terms of constructing the picture of a victim one can assume that the content of a perception is constructed in an active- constructive process of production rather than a passive- receptive process of representation (Flick 2004: 89). We find access to our world of experience which includes natural and social environment as well as certain conceptions by the construction of concepts and knowledge which are used to interpret experiences, understanding and attribution of meaning (ibid.: 90).

It is crucial to regard the construction of knowledge and concepts in the context of social research and figure out the relevance for the present dissertation.

Schütz (1962: 208ff) describes that social research uses pre-existing everyday constructs out of everyday knowledge and constructs with this another more formalised and generalised version of the world (Flick 2004: 91).

Due to the lack of research about the conception of a victim in Cambodian society, my dissertation will focus on the social construct of a child sex trafficking victim and how it differs depending on the social environment or society the child is living in.

This research seeks to identify the concept of a child sex trafficking victim which NGOs, International Organisation and the Cambodian government develop campaigns and policies to combat trafficking on. To get a clearer picture of the causes of child victim Piper (2005) claims that there is more research required into pre-trafficking situations (evidence of child abuse, family situation, and socio-economic pressure on family) and the challenges faced by trafficked victims who return to their countries and/ or regions of origin. Also the question arises of whether the victim can attain victim status after being returned to the family or whether stigmatisation causes him/her to be seen as an outcast. I would like to consider these issues for my qualitative interviews with NGOs and governmental representatives in Cambodia.

1.2. Additional literature review

Apart from the literature referred to in the text above, essential texts for researching human trafficking and child sex trafficking in particular are e.g. Micollier (eds) (2004) who edited different essays which examine the social construction of sexuality, gender roles in the family, and gendered power relations in society in East Asia. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also published various studies and books concerning human trafficking. The most contributive one for my research (IOM 2005), gathers a collection of essays that describe data collection and research of human trafficking from different countries. Relevant for the Mekong sub-region, Nicola Piper (2005) gives a review in this book about undertaken research on trafficking in South East Asia and Oceania. She highlights the gaps of knowledge in literature and research of trafficking issues. Savona and Stefanizzi (eds) (2007) and their contributors have a similar focus but offer a deeper analysis of migration flows and trafficking and improving monitoring mechanisms for these complex criminal activities. An important study about human trafficking in Cambodia was undertaken by the Asia Regional Cooperation to Prevent People Trafficking (2003): Gender, Human Trafficking and the Criminal Justice System in Cambodia. Their research focus was on the gender perspective of trafficking and the underlying causes and contributing factors.

Another study by the Asian Foundation (2006): A Review of a Decade of Research On Trafficking in Persons, Cambodia, aimed to provide a systematically review on trafficking related research about the consequences, scopes and patterns of trafficking. They review more trafficking in general and in its various patterns. Child sex trafficking is considered in a small but well researched paragraph.

Summing up, these key readings and studies all critically asses human trafficking and offer a variety of valid perspectives on the phenomenon.

2. Research question and aim

Research question

As introduced to in the paragraph above, my research question arises out of a literature gap.:

“What type of conceptualisation of a victim do victim support centres, NGOs and the government in Cambodia have and how do those concepts influence their work, campaigns and policy strategies?”

Research aim

The research aim is to identify the different existing constructions of a child sex trafficking victims in Cambodia provided and to explore if the social and cultural construction of a trafficked child differs depending on society and social environment like shelters or vocational training programme the child lives in or is involved in.

Possible sub-questions that contribute to the research question are:

How do children become victims of trafficking?

What is the social construction of women and girls in Cambodia?

Explore the historical development of the term “child” and “juvenile” in Cambodia in legal and cultural ways. Is there a changing meaning of those terms?

How important is virginity for Cambodian men?

3. Research Method/ Design

According to Flick (2006), the foundation of qualitative research is the reconstruction of social realities. Through the exploration of subjective perceptions, patterns of interpretation, structural characteristics and the latent meaning of action, a deeper understanding of a study field can be achieved. Thereby, no proband taming takes place by presetting of answering categories, but it creates a space for individual perspectives of the study field (Muckel 1996: 66). The general claim of qualitative research is to describe “life worlds ‘from the inside out’, from the point of view of the people who participate” (Flick et al: 3), to contribute to a better understanding of social realities. In comparison to quantitative social research where one examine already formulated hypothesis, the aim of qualitative research is to discover new ideas and to develop empirically justified theories (Flick 2006: 15). Though, the communication of the researches of the particular field, i.e. the subjectivity of the researcher and the researched, becomes an essential component of the research process and the finding (Flick 2006).

Contrary to quantitative research controlling or excluding influence from the researched as interfering variables, in qualitative research the reflection of the researcher’s actions, his perceptions and observations as well as impressions and irritations are involved in the data evaluation process (ibid.: 16). The openness to the primary world of the researched and their different constructions of reality as well as according to the applied research methods are a basic characteristic of qualitative research (ibid.).

My research interest focuses on the subjective views and conception of the victim of child sex trafficking in Cambodia. Therefore it is essential to apply qualitative research methods. In the following I will describe the chosen methods of collecting and evaluating data.

3.1. Method of data collection

The dissertation seeks to asses NGOs, crisis centres and governmental agencies’ conceptions and views of the victim of child sex trafficking in Cambodia. The aim is to examine how their construction of a child victim influences their project, campaigns and policies. This interrelation is possible to depict verbally but not easily to detect throughout observation processes due to ethical considerations. The observation of the work with victims is ethically not justifiable in such a short research time frame as the identity with victims is strictly confidential and observation is not approved by the organisations or shelters if the researcher is not able to stay at least 2 month. Therefore the qualitative interview with the organisations and shelters was chosen as a research method. The main interest is to find out about particular perceptions and more complex argumentations. Therefore the questioning should be more active and probing (Hopf 2004: 204).

Semi-structured Interview

The semi-structured interview is an appropriate approach to explore the subjective perception and theories that stands behind my questionnaire. Scheele and Groeben (1988) introduced this approach to explore the construction and subjective theories behind everyday knowledge and the field of study (Flick 2006: 155). Their assumption was that interviewees are encouraged to express their perceptions and their reasoning behind certain topics in a natural manner if the interviewer provides a semi-structured question

setting. Therefore one can reconstruct the subjective theories and views of the interviewee for the purpose of the study.

The main elements of the semi-structured interview are open and confrontational questions. (see box 1) They offer the interviewee space to express their perception and knowledge. The confrontational question has a responsive function to the subjective theories offered by the interviewee and is asking a competing alternative to re-examine the opinions (ibid.: 156). An example for my research would be:

(Text box 1)

Another set of questions would be hypothesis-directed questions (see text box 2) which test scientific literature written about the research topic (ibid.). They give the interviewee the chance to become more explicit and help the interviewer to get the required information for the researched topic:

(Text box 2)

In specific: the Expert Interview

The expert interview is a subcategory of the semi-structured interview. The approach of the dissertation questionnaire is to interview on the one hand service providers like victim support centre, crisis centres and NGOs that support the victim needs and rights. On the other hand it is an aim to speak to the Cambodian government which means in particular MP Mu Sochua of the Ministry of Women’s and Veteran’s Affairs (MWVA). Here the interest is not so much the biographic background of the actual person but more the perception of the actual institution or the Cambodian Parliament about the research topic. The interviewees are seen as representatives for a certain group not as individuals (Flick 2006: 165).

There are several research practical amenities for the expert interview. In an early exploration phase of a theoretical, less prestructured and informational less cross-linked research, the expert interview offers unrivalled dense data acquisition. This stands in contrast to the elaborate, cost and time-intensive accomplishment of participant observation, field study and systematic quantitative research (Bogner and Menz 2005: 7).

It is recommended to choose expert interviews if a study field is hard or impossible to access especially when it comes to delicate issues like child sex trafficking and child prostitution.

Beside the economic advantages and the chance to get information even about an awkward issue, another advantage is the facilitation of further field access when the expert refers to other colleagues and dialogue partners. It should also be noted out of a methodological view that a further benefit is that it is much easier to interview an expert as they usually have a higher linguistic competence which contributes directly to the analysis of the narrative. Hence, in an idealised conception, two academic socialised dialogue partners meet in this interview setting (ibid.: 8).

To ensure validity of my research and to ascertain patterns of the construction of the victim of child sex trafficking, I intend to carry out 15-20 interviews with victim support centres, Human Rights NGOs who are concerned about child sex trafficking and government representatives (all in Phnom Penh).

All institutions are contacted via email and telephone to arrange an appointment during my field trip in Cambodia and to offer them an outline of the research project which gives them the opportunity to prepare for the questions.

I will use open-ended questions that give the interviewee space to present their perceptions and views. It also allows for the emergence of new topics that were not originally thought to be part of the interview. I will prepare 8 broad topics for the interviews that are formulated as broad questions and introduce them one after the other [2] . Depending on the interview course, I will specify the topics and ask in more detail to clarify vague formulations.

3.2. Limitations

Whilst there are many advantages to this research design, there are also several limitations to the expert interview. Meuser and Nagel (2002:87) identify the expert might not always react as desired where their expertise may emerge as being limited and impede the interview process. Further, they identify the eventuality that the interviewee may not t participate in the “question-answering game” (Flick 2006:165) giving instead a speech to promote their knowledge and/or agenda. Whilst this can sometimes contribute to the research topic, it can also digress from the point and make it difficult to return to the original question. Another potential weakness of expert interviews is that the interviewee can change roles from being an expert to being a private person. Whereby, the interview looses objectiveness and private/ personal perceptions and bias may interfere with the representation of the institution or expert knowledge (ibid.).

To ensure reliability for this method it is crucial that the interviewee, here the expert, understands the research context and the questions fully. Bulmer and Warwick (1983) identify the difficulties of conducting social research in developing countries which gives this research proposal an interesting angle. It is widely recognised that the availability of social data in developing countries is limited. Existing data is often of poor quality and therefore of little use due to limited administrative capacity, lack of manpower and infrastructure (ibid.: 4-5).

The validity might be restricted and misleading if one relies only on administrative sources. The Cambodian law enforcement agencies and administration are perceived as the most corrupt sector. The Global Corruption Barometer also shows that 70% of the citizens are likely to pay bribes to the police (Anti- Corruption Resource Centre 2009) which proves the normality and explicitness of corruption within the population. When it comes to delicate issues such as human trafficking high ranking Cambodian law enforcement official are believed to accept bribes to facilitate human trafficking and child prostitution (US Department of State Human Rights Report 2006). A revealing example for corruption compliance within sex trafficking is the former Deputy Director of the Police Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Department and two officials under his supervision were convicted and imprisoned for facilitating human trafficking (Anti- Corruption Resource Centre 2009). Due to the ubiquity of corruption, corruption this must be recognised within my research and considered when seeking out NGOs, who can offer a different picture of the reality throughout their mandate, their reports and research. With this considering and an awareness of these potential difficulties and obstacles within the interview process, a valid data collection can be better guaranteed. If one does so, the expert interview can be a very useful and powerful source to generate valid data. After weighing up the variety of pro and cons, the expert interview is an appropriate interview method for this research to provide an interpretative account of the concept a child sex trafficking victim.

3.3. Alternative Method: Problem-centered Interview (PCI)

Initially the problem-centered interview (Witzel 1982; 1985) was considered as an appropriate interview method for my research question about construction of a victim. The principles of the problem-centred interview are “to gather objective evidence on human behaviour as well as on subjective perceptions and ways of processing social reality” (Witzel 2000:1). In this sense, the basic concern is the exploration of subjective cognition, approaches, motivation for actions and situation al interpretations. In contrast, the narrative interview (Hopf 2004: 206) is considered in this context to be inadequate because it produces a lot of material which leads to a huge data amount. Further, there should be no intervention in the process where the role of the interviewer is an attentive listener. This would be inappropriate considering the specific research questionnaire in mind and the given time frame. The problem-centered interview to large extent draws upon Glasers and Strauss’s (1967) theory generating method of the “Grounded Theory”.

The primary reason for excluding this research method is the fact that it is a biographic focused interview where the biography and personal experiences of the interviewee are integral to the data generated. The expert knowledge of a certain field or of a particular organisation and expertise which mirrors the ideology of that institution is of more use than the biography of the expert and their personal motivations and views. Nevertheless, the research interest is to ascertain and interpret why the concept of the victim is constructed as described by the organisation experts and why it might differ from Western views of the child as a victim of sex trafficking. Therefore cultural and social constructions of realities have to be included.

3.4. Data analysis

The reliability of this study will be maximised by transcribing all interviews conducted and building categories based on an initial reading of the transcripts. This process is described as ‘coding’ (e.g. Flick 2006: 295 and Seale 2004: 306ff) which is based in based in grounded theory as discussed earlier [3] . Seale identifies that the purpose of coding qualitative data is to reduce large amounts of data and to “develop and test out theories” (2004: 313). The main challenging task for the researcher is to filter out comparisons and identify similarities and differences in the interview material. For my research I will use open coding which means the “process of breaking down, examining, comparing, conceptualising and categorizing data” (Strauss and Corbin 1990: 61). The coding strategy enables me to analyse the concepts of the victim of child sex trafficking, group them into categories and subsequently discuss them in depth. The last step of coding is a list of terms together with an explanatory text (Böhm 2004: 271).

3.5. Ethics in qualitative research

Multiple ethical considerations arise throughout the research process for this dissertation. Starting from the research design and the appropriateness of certain methods to collecting data and further on to the point of analysing the gathered data. More recently there has been a paradigm shift from the ethical concerns in social research concerned with the ways in which participants are affected by the research to a more post-structuralist approach which includes the social world and the knowable and objective truth is uncovered by researchers (Ali and Kelly 2004: 116). A crucial influence in social research ethics comes from feminist researchers who emphasise “[…] the role of power relations at all levels of knowledge production, from epistemology, through research relationships, to the dissemination of findings” (ibid.). Research regarding child sex trafficking can be seen from the perspective of feminist research as it is a highly gendered topic. It is therefore crucial to consider feminist research practices and its related ethical elements. A primary aim of feminist research is to contest and dispute the marginalised status of woman, and in this particular case vulnerable child, by representing their needs, perspectives and perceptions (Gillies and Alldred 2005: 39). There have been many controversies surrounding the role of the researcher in the production of knowledge about women and representing ‘the Other’ (Wilkonson and Kitzinger 1996, in: Gillies and Alldred 2005: 39).

The ethical concerns posed when carrying out research on trafficked children as such a vulnerable group are profound. I therefore consider it ethically unjustifiable to interview children about their experience with sexual exploitation within this short research period. Such an approach could potentially cause further distress to an already vulnerable and exploited subject group. As such, I have therefore decided against interviewing victims of trafficking and will conduct interviews exclusively with experts.

Respect will be given to existing ethical precautions and regulations for social research whilst also acknowledging that an ethical practice will often “comes down to the ‘professional’ integrity of the individual researcher” (Ali and Kelly 2004: 118).

Translator difficulties

A further challenge to potentially interviewing victims would be the requirement of a translator which can creates a multitude of problems: The dynamic can create a tense and unbalanced atmosphere for the victims to talk comfortably. There is a risk that the translator may not translate the verbatim accurately. Finally, interpretation of the language particulars of the victim is crucial to the data and therefore not understanding Khmer creates a large obstacle when reviewing the interview translations. This may be hard to overcome even with a translator. In consideration of this I decided to interview English speaking NGOs and government representatives.

How generalisable will our results be to the sectors as a whole?

5. Timescale from 15th April to 2nd September



Literature Review


Questionnaire Design



Data Processing

Data Analysis

Write Report






April 22





April 6












May 27


June 3



June 10


June 17



















July 22










Aug 12



Aug 19


Aug 26


Sep 2





Sep 15


(Bloch, A. (2010) Timescales for Research Project: The Professional Capacity of Nationals from the Somali Regions in the UK, Moodle City University, slides of lecture 6)

6. Bibliography

Books and journal articles:

Ali, S. and Kelly, M. (2004) Ethics and social research, in Seale, C. Researching Society and Culture. London [et al.]: Sage Publications.

Archivantitkul, K. (1998) Trafficking in children for forced labour exploitation including child prostitution in the Mekong sub-region. Bangkok: ILO-IPEC.

Asia Regional Cooperation to Prevent People Trafficking (2003) Gender, Human Trafficking and the Criminal Justice System in Cambodia http://wwww.humantrafficking.org/uploads/updates/gender_report_cambodia.pdf [accessed 7th April 2010].

Berger, P.L. and Luckmann, T. (1966) The Social Construction of Reality. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Bloch, A. (2010) Timescales for Research Project: The Professional Capacity of Nationals from the Somali Regions in the UK, Moodle City University, slides of lecture 6.

Bogner, A., Menz, W. (2005) Expertenwissen und Forschungspraxis: die modernisierungstheoretische und die methodische Debatte um die Experten., in Das Experteninterview: Theorie, Methode, Anwendung. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag Für Sozialwissenschaften.

Böhm, A. (2004) Theoretical Coding: Text Analysis in Grounded Theory, in Flick et al A Companion to Qualitative Research. London[et al.]: Sage Publications.

Bulmer, M., Warwick, D. (1983) Social Research in developing countries. Surveys and Censuses in the Third World. Chichester [West Sussex]: Wiley.

Christie, N. (1986) The Ideal Victim, in Fattah, E.A. From Crime Policy to Victim Policy. Reorienting the justice system. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.

Flick, U., von Kardorff, E. and Steinke, I. (2004) A Companion to Qualitative Research. London [et al.]: Sage Publications.

Flick, U. (2004) Constructivism, in Flick,U., von Kardorff, E. and Steinke, I. A Companion to Qualitative


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