South African trafficking report with no methodology: is this an epidemic?

More and more people who understand that research requires methodology are examining reports on trafficking. This critique comes from Marlise Richter in South Africa.

South African research report on trafficking flawed

South Africa’s premier social science institute, the Human Sciences Research Council, released a report in March 2010 on human trafficking in South Africa.  A consortium of researchers and academics compiled the report, Tsireledzani: understanding the dimensions of human trafficking in Southern Africa, claiming it to be ‘the first comprehensive assessment of human trafficking in South Africa’. A recent article by me (Marlise Richter) and Chandré Gould* discusses problems with the HSRC report, including unrealistic and unreasonable terms of reference, problematic research methods and unsubstantiated claims.


  • Very little information is provided about methods used,
  • No clear presentation of the data,
  • No indication of whether information has been verified for accuracy.

It is therefore difficult to know what one can trust in the report and what is mere scare-mongering. Through over-generalised claims that support popular and often xenophobic perceptions, the report provides the illusion that the researchers have uncovered a clear and comprehensive picture of the situation of trafficking in South Africa. This was misleading and dangerous at a time when people were worried about trafficking to the 2010 FIFA World Cup – an opportunity to shape meaningful legislation for victims of trafficking.

We called on the HSRC to retract the report and its findings but have had no response.

Marlise Richter is PhD Candidate, International Centre for Reproductive Health, Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ghent University, Belgium and Visiting Researcher: Forced Migration Studies Programme, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

* ‘Of Nigerians, albinos, satanists and anecdotes: A critical review of the HSRC report on human trafficking.’ Chandré Gould, Marlise Richter and Ingrid Palmary. SA Crime Quarterly , No 32, June 2010, pp 27-45.

4 thoughts on “South African trafficking report with no methodology: is this an epidemic?

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  3. Kris

    That’s interesting about methodologies.

    I’m researching prostitution for years. Prostitution is a very complex and diverse world, and the only methodology I have is to gather as much information as much as possible. And then try to make sense of all the contradictions. You have a lot of small pieces of the puzzle, and then you try to create a big picture. A very difficult task.

    I think the biggest problem about researching prostitutes (and people in general) is that you totally rely on what information people give you. Is it right what they say? Is it wrong? You always must make assumptions.

    I can imagine writing a research report and then simply give an overview of what kind of research already exists, what kind of views there exist about prostitutes. And then at the end of the report make some speculations about what’s really going on.

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