Different police authorities compete about whose unscientific methods are better – well, why not? It is a Rescue Industry, after all. But many people think, if the numbers were produced by policemen or – gasp, wow – some entity of the UN, they must be better, more scientific, maybe having access to amazing inside information. I have news for everyone, the methodological problems are just as hard to surmount for people working at big institutions as for anyone else (I know lots of these folk, and I myself did some ILO research once). Big money does not mean better methods but even more important does not mean the problems of definition and the inaccessibility of undocumented and stigmatised people go away. There are ethnographic studies of police work, too, that show just how arbitrary and subjective a lot of it is.
The subject here is a report on how many trafficking victims there are in the UK. Both estimates derive from ridiculously crude, subjective and evidence-free methods. Will 10 000 victims in the UK be the new figure to be cited here and yon because a reporter wrote it in a newspaper?
The first estimate is described like this (try not to laugh at the ‘codename’, please):
The study, codenamed Project Acumen, relied on interviews with 254 women in London brothels and extrapolated the remaining national figure using newspaper reports and patchy existing data. It estimates that 17,000 foreign women work in the off-street sex industry but does not give data for the number of women who might be trafficked into street prostitution – or the number of British women that might be trafficked.
Note here that even the police cannot decide whether ‘national’ subjects qualify as ‘trafficked’ or not.
The second estimate goes like this:
The former Conservative MP Anthony Steen, chairman of the Human Trafficking Centre, said he had spoken to senior police officers who know of 2,300 brothels in London alone. “They reckoned that 80 per cent of those working there were from abroad, and they estimated that 4,000 were trafficked. And that was just in London. My view is that the national figure is probably in excess of 10,000.”
Tiresome man, mentioning that oft-debunked 80% figure from a Poppy Project telephone survey. The pretend-clients rang numbers in classified adverts and asked whether sex workers of different nationalities were available. They were told yes, indeed, different nationalities were available. By receptionists seeking to bring the callers in as customers. Poppy researchers then said if they are foreign, chances are they were trafficked. Well, honestly, you wouldn’t want to put that sort of ‘data’ in a number-crunching machine, would you?
From Police report into brothels dismissed as ‘amateurish’ by other amateurs!