In September, 15 academics and advocates wrote to the State Department’s Trafficking Office to request reliable evidence in support of statements made in the document: “Prevention: Fighting Sex Trafficking by Curbing Demand for Prostitution.” The Trafficking Office recently responded but, to our disappointment, it was unable to present even one piece of reliable research in support of the claims in the ‘fact sheet’ (their term, now ours). On the contrary, the response seems to indicate that the Office stands by its position and believes that an opinion or an idea about how to solve a problem carries the same weight as facts backed up by evidence. Its response states that the ‘fact sheet’ is “just one in a wide range of similar fact sheets” and that its “Office does not state that a single technique to fight trafficking should be used to the exclusion of others.” This indicates that the Trafficking Office believes its opinions on the causes of trafficking are ‘facts’ and that these opinions are a sound basis to “fight trafficking.” With all due respect to the Office, claims to ‘facts’ and ‘techniques to fight trafficking’ should be backed up by solid evidence that is produced by careful research and validated methods. Effective responses to trafficking require more than guesses and ideologically-rooted suppositions about what works and what doesn’t.
Until the Trafficking Office is able to produce solid research in support of the claims made in this ‘fact sheet’, it should remove the document from its website and not replace it unless and until it has such evidence. In absence of such a step, it would seem that the Obama Administration’s promise to bring rigorous evidence to programs and policies does not apply to the Trafficking Office. Read the Trafficking Office response and the original letter to the Trafficking Office.