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8. Measuring Risk



‘At risk’ is a common phrase used by researchers and practitioners in the anti-human trafficking effort to describe when a person or community has a heightened vulnerability to exploitation compared to other similar individuals and communities. The phrase is often used as a broad categorization of target populations for which programs are implemented to prevent human trafficking. Practitioners, researchers, and policymakers often use ‘at risk’ without an accurate understanding of risk itself, nor the factors that enhance risk. There is a need for preventative policies and interventions to define risk and target communities and populations that are more ‘at risk’ than others.


The social-ecological model provides a framework for prevention by outlining risk factors that contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to exploitation. This model considers the complex interplay between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors(1) and has been adapted in various forms to describe factors for human trafficking.(2,3,4,5) This guide presents Global Family’s adapted social-ecological framework and methods for measuring individual and community factors.


The purpose of this tool is to assist community-based practitioners in understanding the level of risk that individuals face to trafficking and exploitation in a particular community. This tool is based on an adapted social-ecological model of risk and as such it is a theoretically-grounded tool. It is not meant to provide a holistic understanding of the factors that increase vulnerability, nor does it enable the user to weight different factors. It does provide a framework through which risk can be assessed and compared based on commonly understood definitions and empirical observations of vulnerability. Two types of measures are recorded, which are explained below.

  1. Absolute measures are those that are measured without comparison to other communities and regions. When assessing absolute factors, select the box for the range in which the community falls.

  2. Observational measures are factors that the user(s) observe in the community. If the user(s) has not spent time in the community, the user(s) should consult community members and other research on the area.

After the tool has been completed, add up the checked boxes at the bottom of each section (individual, environmental, and social). One checked box counts for one point in Tercile 1, two points in Tercile 2, and three points for Tercile 3. Add up the points at the end of each section. The following table shows the number of points that indicates a community has low, medium, and high vulnerability. This tool measures individual, environmental, and social vulnerability separately since a community may display higher vulnerability at the individual level, but low vulnerability at the social level. While they are interconnected, they may not be mutually dependent.


Aside from determining the vulnerability of individuals and communities to trafficking and exploitation, a risk assessment can inform how and where preventative interventions are implemented. Findings may be used to design or validate a strategy, make mid-course corrections, improve project design and implementation, and make funding decisions. When using findings to begin or amend preventative programming, consider the strengths and weaknesses of current interventions and whether changing program design would bring value to the community or beneficiaries of the project(s).


This tool can also be used to measure how risk factors change over time. When implementing preventative policies or interventions, this tool can be used as a baseline assessment of risk as well as a continual assessment of outcomes. This is especially useful for policies and interventions that aim to mitigate specific risk factors.

Risk Factor Assessment
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Description of Risk Assessment Factors
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2 Barner, J.R., Okech, D., and Camp, M.A. (2017). “One size does not fit all:” A proposed ecological model for human trafficking intervention. Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work 15(2): 136-149.

3 Francis, A. (2017). Modern slavery: Introducing the socio-ecological model. Available at:

4 Villalobos, A.D. (2014). Child victims of human trafficking: An ecological overview in Chile. Unpublished Dissertation. Cornell University.

5Greenbaum, V.J., Titchen, K., Walker-Descartes, I., Feifer, A., Rood, C.J., and Fong, H. (2018). Multi-level prevention of human trafficking: The role of health care professionals. Preventive Medicine 114: 164-167.

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