Preliminary Perspectives on DNA Collection in Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts
Sara H. Katsanis,
Mollie A. Minear,
Jennifer K. Wagner.
Forensic DNA methodologies have potential applications in the investigation of human trafficking
cases. DNA and relationship testing may be useful for confirmation of biological relationship
claims in immigration, identification of trafficked individuals who are missing persons, and family reunification
of displaced individuals after mass disasters and conflicts. As these applications rely on the
collection of DNA from non-criminals and potentially vulnerable individuals, questions arise as to
how to address the ethical challenges of collection, security, and privacy of collected samples and DNA profiles. We administered
a survey targeted to victims’ advocates to gain preliminary understanding of perspectives regarding human
trafficking definitions, DNA and sex workers, and perceived trust of authorities potentially involved in DNA collection.
We asked respondents to consider the use of DNA for investigating adoption fraud, sex trafficking, and post-conflict child
soldier cases. We found some key differences in perspectives on defining what qualifies as “trafficking.” When we varied
terminology between “sex worker” and “sex trafficking victim” we detected differences in perception on which authorities
can be trusted. Respondents were supportive of the hypothetical models proposed to collect DNA. Most were favorable of
DNA specimens being controlled by an authority outside of law enforcement. Participants voiced concerns focused on
privacy, misuse of DNA samples and data, unintentional harms, data security, and infrastructure. These preliminary data
indicate that while there is perceived value in programs to use DNA for investigating cases of human trafficking, these
programs may need to consider levels of trust in authorities as their logistics are developed and implemented.
Keywords: Decriminalization, DNA identification, ELSI, forensic DNA, human rights, human trafficking, sex trafficking, sex
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