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Evaluation of the San Francisco Mayor’s Task Force on Anti-Human Trafficking

A community-based and survivor-led approach to measuring the effectiveness of an anti-trafficking task force

According to the U.S. Department of State, in 2013 more than 44,500 people were victims of human trafficking around the world. By other estimates, the number is far higher. In its 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that at least 20.9 million trafficking victims exist worldwide.

Despite the term, trafficking does not always mean moving across state or national borders. It includes people of all ages, genders, and citizenship statuses who are exploited in a range of industries—including domestic work, agriculture, traveling sales, restaurants and hospitality, and sex work. Although the majority of public attention is focused on exploitation in the sex industry, the ILO reports that labor trafficking is over three-and-a-half times as prevalent as sex trafficking.

Gauging the Effectiveness of Anti-Trafficking Task Forces

In an effort to address this human rights issue, the U.S. federal government has funded more than 40 anti-trafficking task forces since 2004. Many other task forces have been established throughout the U.S. without the financial support of the federal government. Some task forces focus on identifying human trafficking, serving victims, and investigating and building cases, while others prioritize training, technical assistance, building awareness, addressing service gaps, and changing business norms and practices.

Although questions about effectiveness of these task forces have prompted new federal evaluation and reporting requirements, no such evaluations have been launched yet. The National Institute of Justice sought to create a model for this type of work with an evaluation of the San Francisco Mayor’s Task Force on Anti-Human Trafficking.

Launched in 2013, the Mayor’s Task Force on Anti-Human Trafficking includes representatives from city government and law enforcement, as well as social services agencies, and community based organizations. The task force is not federally funded, which has allowed it to extend its scope beyond criminal justice to address gaps in services, policy, and programs.

Bringing Together Survivors and Experts in a Community-Based and Participatory Model

To undertake this first-ever comprehensive evaluation of an anti-trafficking task force, we assembled a team of trafficking experts, program evaluators, survivors, and allies. The inclusion of survivors in this process is unprecedented and mission critical, as they bring an unparalleled understanding of the challenges faced by trafficking victims and the limitations of efforts that focus exclusively on law enforcement and criminal justice.

The project launched in 2016 and within the first six months we completed the initial, formative research phase that included reviewing the history of the task force, attending task force meetings, interviewing members, and assessing the level of collaboration among task force members.

Connecting Task Force Efforts to Outcomes

The formative research revealed that despite having funding for only one half-time position, the task force has managed to close service gaps through alternate funding sources. Our research also revealed a need for additional clarity on membership and alignment on the task force’s goals. Task force members aspire to a broader scope of work that focuses on labor exploitation not just in the sex industry or in gendered industries like nail salons or massage establishments. Driving this aspiration is their knowledge that although awareness of sex trafficking is higher, human trafficking is actually far more prevalent in agriculture, hospitality, and other industries.

As a result of these findings, the task force is embarking on a strategic planning process to identify their key and unifying goals, work towards greater levels of collaboration among task force members, and develop metrics by which they can measure their efforts to fight human trafficking in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Through the evaluation of San Francisco’s task force, and importantly with the inclusion of survivor voices in these efforts, much can be learned about how the city can combat human trafficking and enhance and improve services for survivors. Further, as the first-of-its-kind survivor-ally led evaluation, this work can serve as a foundation for evaluating the myriad other human trafficking task forces across the nation. Therefore, disseminating insights that can be used by survivors, academics and service providers is a key priority for our continuing work.