Survivor Re/Integration in Cambodia: What Works?

15 November 2018
Research Innovation

James Havey  | Project Advisor, the Chab Dai Butterfly Longitudinal Re/Integration Research Project

In 2010, Chab Dai Coalition’s Butterfly Longitudinal Reintegration Research Project (BLR) began following the lives of 128 Cambodian survivors of human trafficking, exploitation and/or abuse. After nine years and more than 4,500 quantitative surveys and qualitative in-depth interviews, the team has developed an illustrated list of the project’s top 10 findings thus far. Since its inception, this study has sought to find out what happens to survivors of human trafficking during and after NGO interventions. While the ‘Top 10’ report is an overview of the findings from this research, the team has also produced in-depth thematic reports on these findings that also contain literature reviews and recommendations related to each theme.

The importance of programming inclusive of the client’s family cannot be overstated because it is a foundational aspect of a client’s recovery journey.

Two themes emerged over the course of the BLR. First, there is a need for researchers working with survivors of human trafficking to develop trust with the participants, which leads to richer and more authentic interviews. In 2014, the BLR team realized that the rigid quantitative survey tools they were using over the past three years were not allowing for the authentic storytelling the participants required while answering the team’s questions.The data collected before 2014 is still essential to the project, and helps paint a picture of where the participants were at the beginning of the study. By shifting the interview methodology to a more qualitative-based approach, the team and participants were able to have a dialogue through the survey’s themes—uncovering deep-seated emotions and realities each participant has been facing. Building trust between participants and researchers allows survivor participants to confidently and confidentially give their true emotions about their families, their relationship with the non-governmental organizations providing them aftercare assistance and their journey post-exploitation.

Second, the BLR team learned that working with individual survivors to increase their mental and physical stability, provide education and vocational training, help with their re/integration into the community and assist with job placement should also be coupled with the stabilization of their immediate family units. This gives greater security to a survivor facing re-exploitation. The importance of working to ensure the economic and emotional stability of a client’s family during the whole of their care with an NGO can help alleviate:

  • the need for a client to frequently change living arrangements upon reintegration (Finding 6);
  • abandonment issues and lacking social capital to overcome them (Findings 4 and 7);
  • the uphill battle for stable livelihoods (Finding 5); and
  • a family’s insecurity in welcoming their dependent back into their household (Finding 8).

The importance of programming inclusive of the client’s family cannot be overstated because it is a foundational aspect of a client’s recovery journey. We found that 23 out of 64 female participants in the BLR who had stayed in a residential-based aftercare program—a shelter—before being reintegrated back into the community, have been or are currently in exploitative situations.

The team also found that only five participants, out of 20 interviewed in February 2018, have stable livelihoods, which includes healthy social support, stable and enough income, and a safe living environment. Alongside working to stabilize the client’s family, BLR participants are calling for NGOs to provide higher-quality vocational training and job placement services. In 2015, Chea, a survivor participating in the study, reflected on her own experiences and described her recommendations to NGOs providing job-skill trainings to their clients:

Please don’t ask us to learn how to sew bags for half-day and salon half-day…To make the skill helpful, they should focus on the training skills and conduct specific trainings…Participants should finish their course with good training skills no matter what they learn…I think outside [training] is better. They know more than the inside trainer. Moreover, they are more professional with salon skills. If we take an outside training, we get the certificate for this course, but if we take training inside the shelter, we get only certificate from the shelter.

One of BLR’s associate NGO partners said that they found that training their women in salon skills and then reintegrating them into their rural hometown was not sustainable because there was no demand for a beautician in a farming community. As such, we strongly recommend market-driven skills training to survivors so as to avoid wasting precious resources and promote income security when a client matriculates from the care of an NGO.

Butterfly has given partner NGOs around the globe our recommendations to integrate into their organization’s programming. Part of the BLR’s mission is to be a conduit of survivor’s wants, needs and insights to service providers and policy makers, and our recommendations are a key part of this. Although the BLR comes to a close at the end of next year with a final longitudinal report of the entire study, the Butterfly project will continue in 2020 under a new paradigm. We will carry on being a resource for survivors of human trafficking, exploitation and/or abuse to make sure their voice is heard.

James Havey is the Project Advisor for the Butterfly Longitudinal Reintegration Research Project.

All names of the BLR’s research participants have been changed in accordance with the study’s code of Ethics.

If you have any questions, comments, and feedback, please feel free to reach out to BLR Project Manager, Lim Vanntheary at, or the BLR Project Advisor, James Havey at

This article has been prepared by James Havey as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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