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An Interview with Valiant Richey, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings: Part II

An Interview with Valiant Richey, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings: Part II

Valiant Richey is the OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, where he represents the OSCE at the political level on anti-trafficking issues, and assists Participating States in the development and implementation of anti-trafficking strategies and initiatives. Previously, he worked for thirteen years as a prosecutor in Seattle handling sexual assault, child exploitation and human trafficking cases. In the second part of our interview series, slavefreetrade had the opportunity to discuss with him how incorporating gender-sensitive approaches can help strengthen existing strategies to end THB, as well as, how anti-trafficking advocates can leverage the role of technology.

How does gender impact vulnerabilities to human trafficking? 

This is a timely topic right now, because we’re starting to have a much better appreciation for the intersection of gender dynamics and trafficking. It’s interesting because the Palermo Protocol, which established the foundation for modern anti-trafficking efforts, was some 21 years ago and it references gender-sensitive approaches, but it’s taken a long time to actually implement these. 

So what’s the role of [gender]? I think it’s really comprehensive. There are a number of gender stereotypes that manifest in the crime of trafficking itself. For example, traffickers will exploit women and girls for sexual exploitation, knowing that men will buy sex from them. And [this] exemplifies another gender stereotype, which is that as men, they feel they are “entitled” to buy sex from women and girls. This is really problematic because it leads to the incentive to exploit women and girls. 

But on the other hand, I think our own stereotypes as anti-trafficking advocates also contribute to this situation. [For example], we stereotype that only women and girls are exploited in sexual exploitation, and we miss the fact that men and boys are being exploited too. What happens is that we start to build our responses based on [these] stereotypes and we miss then this whole category of victims. Because we have assumed that it’s a certain victim, the response [that we built] did not take into account men and boys. 

Another example is in trafficking for organ removal. Some estimates put men as 80% of victims of trafficking for organ removals. Why is that? I would argue a lot of it is around stereotypes that men who are in desperate situations have about themselves, about what their role is [in providing] for their family, so they put themselves in incredibly risky situations. They take on more risk than they should, and they do it because they have some notion or obligation that they need to support their families and [this makes them vulnerable to exploitation].

So, at the OSCE we’ve just published a paper on applying gender-sensitive approaches in combating trafficking in human beings. One of the big focuses of the paper is on trying to dismantle these stereotypes in our own responses to trafficking, as well as to understand the stereotypes that exist in the crime itself. If we can do all that, I think we can start to understand the fundamental role that gender has with regards to trafficking. 

The last thing I’ll say is that [this] is even more complicated because gender is not the only determining factor. There is also intersectionality – race, ethnicity, religion and so forth intersect with gender. So it’s not only women and girls who are exploited sexually, but also [specific groups] of women and girls. For example, when I was a prosecutor [in Seattle], what we [encountered] was that black women and girls were disproportionately represented among our victims. This also has an impact [in terms of understanding] the nature of the exploitation and how to respond to it. 

From your experience as the OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, what are some examples of how incorporating gender-sensitive approaches can help strengthen existing strategies to end THB?

There are some pretty simple things that countries can do. One is to collect gender-sensitive data, [that is] data that account for gender, who the victims are, what sectors they’re being exploited in, how they’re being exploited and so forth. Because what you’ll see are some patterns as to where that happens. For example, men and boys are often exploited through labour exploitation but not all forms. Domestic work for example is very likely to be a form of labour exploitation where women and girls are exploited. If you don’t collect the data, you don’t have that awareness and you’ll miss those patterns. [At the OSCE], we published our recent paper on trafficking in the context of terrorism. There’s a lot of discussion around how this impacts [genders] differently – men and boys are often exploited by terrorist groups for their labour, whereas women and girls are often exploited by terrorist groups for sexual slavery. 

Beyond data, a second thing is to be very intentional about looking at hidden sectors and non-corresponding forms of exploitation, [such as] men and boys being exploited sexually or women and girls being exploited in forced labour. This helps to identify pockets of victims who have traditionally been overlooked. It is dangerous when we start missing broad sectors and victims.

The third thing the OSCE can do when working with governments and practitioners, is to incorporate a gender-sensitive approach into the trainings that we [conduct]. This is done in two ways. One is in the content of the training itself, so training practitioners for example, on how to identify men and boys in sexual exploitation, or women and girls in labour exploitation. Second is with the participants of the training, to [ensure there are] women in traditionally male-dominated roles such as law enforcement or prosecution, and men in social services, who can then broaden and diversify the nature of the response to trafficking. 

Technology can be instrumentalised in negative and positive ways, with regards to human trafficking. In your opinion, what should be done to better utilise technology in favour of preventing and combating forms of THB?

There are two sides of the coin, and the positive side is really important. About a year ago, my office published a paper about leveraging technology to combat trafficking. We identified over 300 tools that are being used to combat trafficking in human beings, and we analysed them [based on] different sectors, purposes, audiences to understand what the nature of the use of technology is. We came up with a few important observations.

One is that there is a lot of tech development to combat trafficking, but what’s not happening very much is measuring the effectiveness of these tools and trying to broaden [their] implementation and use. You need to actually use them, incorporate them and train people on that. You need to see if they work, and this is something that is missing right now. However, there is a group of tech companies called Tech Against Trafficking, and they’re working with some of the most promising tools to scale up their use, measure their effectiveness, support their dissemination and so forth. I think that’s an excellent initiative. 

Second of all, I think we need to talk about adopting laws and policies that will help countries and anti-trafficking practitioners to actually use that technology. A number of countries have laws in place that are not allowing law enforcement, for example, to use the tools they need to use. Some countries don’t even allow for tech-based evidence to be used in cases, so how are you going to proceed if you don’t have the policy framework to actually allow the use of technology?

I think another [challenge] is training and capacity building. Even though we have these [tech] tools, you have to know how to actually use them and [this requires training]. 

What I think we need to consider are scaling up tools and the use of technology to address the scale of the problem. There are 25 million victims, we have to think about what our goal is here. That’s why my office has really been pushing for consideration of a market-based approach rather than just a case-based approach. That is the reason why we are interested and excited about the demand-side approach, looking at [how to address] the whole market [behind trafficking].

Finally, I think we need a better dialogue with tech companies. Tech companies are where most of the development is happening, but their tools are often not used to their fullest because of the policy barriers that I mentioned. If we have a better dialogue between governments and tech companies, we can try to figure out solutions that are going to work for everyone and that’s the main goal here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.