Fighting modern slavery with survivor’s voices

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Dr Julia Muraszkiewicz | Head of Programme Against Exploitation and Violence

Date: 18 April 2023

I used to work at a safe house for survivors of human trafficking. A busy day included listening to the stories of ten or more people. Powerful and insightful stories. Stories that shed light on the modus operandi of the traffickers, and thus stories that could help fight the crimes of modern slavery and human trafficking.

The victims’ accounts told me what the person needed in terms of care and support, why and how they were exploited, and what journeys they had taken.

In a year, I could hear and read hundreds of stories – the volume and detail making it impossible for me to remember everything. And so, when an ask came for a summary of key trends, I would have to spend hours reading back through all my notes. I simply could not remember how many survivors had come to the country by air and how many by road, or how many struggled in their language class. I am sure I am not the only one.

Human memory has limitations, and it’s impossible for us to remember every detail of our experiences, let alone those of others. However, Artificial Intelligence (AI) does not have a memory problem and it can analyse vast amounts of data and identify patterns and trends, including those that may not be apparent to the human eye. It can do so in an instant.

Today I am no longer working in a safe house, I am the Head of the Programme for Human Trafficking and Human Rights at Trilateral Research. And I want the survivor’s experience to lead our understanding and response to modern slavery and human trafficking. It is their crime, they know it, and they can help fight it.

At Trilateral Research we are harnessing the power of Natural Language Processing (NLP) with Honeycomb to better understand human trafficking by analysing thousands of case notes, documents, news articles, and witness statements, pulling out key trends, and answering questions that our stakeholders need answering. In a split second, we have the answer to: “From the 20,000 cases we have worked on in the last ten years, how many had difficulty in obtaining compensation?”. And it’s not by magic, it’s by NLP.

NLP is a branch of AI that allows computers to interpret and understand human language, including in written format. By applying NLP to the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking, Trilateral Research sifts through vast amounts of data and identifies patterns, trends, and insights that can help law enforcement agencies, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations), businesses, Government, and other anti-trafficking organisations combat this global issue more effectively.

With NLP we can generate data straight from the survivor’s experiences and use it for decision-making. Even more importantly, that data is already there, and we do not need to burden the survivors with yet another request to relive their experience for our reports

When it comes to fighting crimes like modern slavery and human trafficking, it is essential that we listen to the voices of the victims themselves. These individuals have first-hand experience of what it’s like to be exploited and trafficked, and they hold valuable information and details that can help us to better understand and combat this crime. By listening to the stories and experiences of survivors, we can gain insights into the tactics and strategies used by traffickers, as well as the physical and psychological effects that trafficking has on its victims. This knowledge can then be used to inform policy and law enforcement efforts and to better protect vulnerable individuals from falling prey to trafficking in the future.

If we want to effectively fight human trafficking, we need to listen to and learn from those who have experienced it first-hand.

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