Trafficking in NI: statistics, media, panic and hope.

NI is panicking.

There has been an 173% increase in human trafficking here in the past year.

Nothing is being done – how could there be, with such awful news?

NI is celebrating.

There has been a 173% increase in recoveries of victims of trafficking here in the past year.

A lot is being done – there must be an increase in awareness and law enforcement, with such great news!

I have heard both of these things, in reference to the same news, in the past couple of weeks. Ah, the power of statistical and media literacy. It is SO easy to get swept up in media-generated panic, or misunderstand cold statistics. However, we must be careful in how we interpret information.


When we hear about a ‘rise’ in trafficking, we generally are talking about an increase in the number of victims identified recovered. Rarely does a ‘rise’ actually refer to the activity of the traffickers. In either case, this definition will be provided – so we need to look for this information.

However, in this case, the ‘rise in trafficking in NI’ refers to the fact that since April 2013, 39 potential victims of human trafficking have been recovered. This is much higher than the 12/13 statistics, which include only 15 people. Thus, we have an increase in people recovered, not necessarily an increase in the activity of trafficking. In fact, this is the highest number of annual recoveries of trafficking victims in NI so far. This is GREAT news. The PSNI recognise that this means an increase in awareness, which results in more individuals and communities coming forward to share information, or indeed to self-identify. It also means a push in law enforcement, which we welcome.

(More info for those who want to know: 39 potential victims who have gone through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The Strategic Baseline Assessment for the whole of the UK would suggest that there is another group of around 40 or so victims who have been recovered but who have not gone through the NRM process; putting our estimate at 80 victims of trafficking recovered in NI this year. And then, we don’t know what we don’t know – there could be another 40 unrecovered victims – or many less, or many more.

Also important to remember is the fact that victims can be in a situation of trafficking for years – further dispelling the myth that an increase in the number of recoveries in one year means that in that year, more people were trafficked. Finally, traffickers often traffik several people – so there is not a 1 trafficker – 1 victim of trafficking ratio.)

So read the stats right, beware of faulty reporting, and…dare to hope. Because this is good news.

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