Butterfly Longitudinal Research “Top 10” Findings*

This year is going to be a busy year for our Butterfly Longitudinal Research Project with four new publications in progress. To start we have taken our past papers and selected our “top ten” findings so far.


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1.    The deep trust the participants have built towards the research team has led to more and more rich and authentic interviews over the years.


“…the team believe retention is largely due to participants trusting that their identities will be kept confidential, their stories matter, and they are valued as individuals.”

Miles, Heang, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang.
Butterfly Methodology Change: A Reflection Paper,
“Longitudinal research design and methodology”,
2014. p4.

“During regular interviews, the BLR team conducts individualized and confidential meeting, with active and attentive listening as the primary goal. The research team strives to provide a safe space, in which the boy’s thoughts and emotions can be validated as real and important. This kind of space seems to be starkly contrasted to the kind of environment that many of the male cohort live in from day-to-day. For a number of respondents, their interviews seem to be a much-needed space where they are able to express pent-up emotions—something that seems to be especially true as time progresses through the re/integration process [and beyond].”

Davis, Havey, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang.
The Forgotten Cohort, 2016. p25.

“There are many children who like this [participating in the BLR interviews] besides even me, personally I like it very much because we have a lot of chances to say/share what we never tell others. But when I meet with you, I can tell you and you not only listen to me, but you also bring my idea to practice. That is what I think and I am really thankful for this.”

(Dary, female, 2016)
Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care,
“Recommendation #1: Listen to clients and be receptive to their input. Ask for their ideas and Act on them”. 2018.


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2.    The shelters for the male participants ended up being highly emotionally and physically violent for a number of reasons, including: bullying, xenophobia, and elitism. One respondent gave a recommendation that boys in the shelters need to be separated along age and maturity lines, because the physical, mental, and sexual maturation is severely different between 12—and—16 years-old males.

Davis, Havey, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang.
The Forgotten Cohort. 2016.

“…At first, staying there [at the shelter for abused boys] was easy because we were the same age and we respected each other…It [trouble] started after the big boys came.”

(Panya**, male, 2015)
Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care,
“Recommendation #15: Separate boys into smaller groups [in a shelter program] to protect the vulnerable”. 2018.


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3.    On top of the stigma against this cohort within a community, NGOs and Shelters have unintentionally created a stigma against the children and youth they work with. Because of these respondent’s association with the NGOs and living at the shelters for years-on-end, the community they have been re/integrated into sees them as being promiscuous.

“Friends at school made me feel unhappy because they mocked me and say bad words about me. I felt they were discriminating against me because they know that I used to live in a shelter. They say that shelter children were sexually exploited and raped until they got pregnant without a husband.

(female, Age 13, 2012)
Morrison, Miles, Schafer, Heang, Lim, Sreang, Nhanh
Resilience: Survivor Experiences and Expressions “Discrimination”, 2014. p34.

“They [family] stopped looking down badly like they did before; just sometimes they recall my bad background, which then hurts my feelings, when my sister blames me for going out at night…but in my mind I’m afraid of my brother-in-law who looks down on me, even now… He blames me and looks down on me most of the time. Whenever he has a problem with my sister he blames me for being a prostitute and calls our family ‘prostitute family’.”

(female, 2012)
Morrison, Miles, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang, Bun.
Survivor Experiences and Perceptions of Stigma,
“Persistence of Stigma among survivors: Continual Reminders”, 2015. p31.

“I did not want my reputation to be bad because there was an organization that sent me home. The word organization – they had to help and what was I that was wrong? They said they brought me to my home, so my neighbors would ask what I was that was wrong and why there was an organization that sent me there… I felt embarrassed. Although I was fatherless and I was poor, so when I went to live in the organization, they also did not believe me…. They [neighbors] do not speak ill about me, but when they saw that the organization sent me there, they knew I worked for a bad workplace.”

(Da, female, 2016)

Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care,
“Findings: Case Study of Participants in a Shelter for Adult Women: Limited follow-up and lack of interest in contacting shelter staff in community”, 2018.

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4.    There is a real sense of ’shock’ once a participant was re/integrated back into the community from a shelter because of the realities of struggles their family has on a daily basis that wasn’t true while living with the NGO (i.e. money for food, stable housing, stable education and skills training, etc.). Once this shock is relieved and some semblance of stability was observed by the NGO, their case was closed and access to the wealth of resources the NGO provides was cut-off. This has led participants wondering why they were treated like family within the shelter but then feeling ‘dropped’ back in the community. This has led respondents to 1) feel socially isolated from the culture and spirituality of their re/integrating communities (especially because all but one associating partner NGOs in this study were Christian), and 2) feeling like promises made by the shelter were unfulfilled (i.e. being promised that their education would be supported through their finishing of Grade 12, but once their case was closed by the NGO, the support stopped.) 

“When I left the shelter, I have no chance to believe in God. I cannot go to the church.”
(Female, Shelter Reintegration Assistance Follow-up, 2012)


“Before I was a Christian but now I am a Buddhist. My father pressured me to burn the incense and hasn’t allowed me to go to the church.”
(Female, Shelter Reintegration Assistance Follow-up, 2012)
Miles, Heang, Lim
End of Year Progress Report 2012
“Spirituality & Religion” 2012. p110.

“A strong majority of [BLR male] respondents (79%) cite feeling the effects of poverty in a variety of ways as they are re/integrated back to their communities. Among the 79%, one-in-five describe lacking food, nearly half (47%) cite having insufficient education for gainful employment, and nearly a third (32%) cite an inability to live with their immediate families due to poverty.”

(above quote & graphic on right)
Davis, Havey, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang.
The Forgotten Cohort, 2016. p14.

“All organizations, if they help the children, please help them to become successful and do not abandon them. In addition, please do not think that those children who have a job and can stand strong, that is not right. On the other hand, they have to visit them or their family to know the reality of their situation…They have to follow up with them often and use polite and sweet words to them.”

(Dary, female, 2015)
Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care, “Recommendation 17: Phase out support more incrementally”. 2018.

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5. There was a heavy lack of the NGOs working with the families of the participants while in the shelter, before re/integration, and during re/integration. This left the participants, 1) feeling undeserving of all these services given to them while in the shelter and wishing they’re family could have access to the same, or they wanted to move back home out of a semblance of solidarity with their families. 2) Not working with the family before the re/integration process led that aforementioned shock of re/integration back into the family and a continuing uphill battle of stable livelihood during and after the re/in process. 3) Though most of the shelters provided money for the respondents to attend school, many participants were forced to quit school to work shortly after they were re/integrated to provide financial support for their family.

“[I] act as a princess. I do not do anything [at the shelter]. After eating, I just sleep. It is easy for me and it is not like other places where people need to work hard and do not have enough food to eat.”

(Sim, female, 2016)
Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care, “Feeling privileged to live in the shelter”, 2018.

“Others expressed that while they appreciated all of the benefits they obtained from living in the shelter, they worried about the wellbeing of their family members who did not have access to all the resources that the clients themselves had access to within the shelter.

Vanna** said:
‘I am bored with living in the Shelter as I miss my family, but it is also the place where I can obtain love and studies… I think it is easier to stay home, but I can eat enough in the shelter center. I do not know about their [family’s] status while they are living outside… When I got something to eat, I always thought about them.’”

(Vanna**, female, 2016)
Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care, “Limited engagement with family while in the shelter”, 2018.

“Some participants who reintegrated in 2012 described their frustration and stress at the lack of assessment and financial support in their reintegration packages, which then meant they found it difficult to stay in school or training upon leaving the shelter. They often found themselves in the same impoverished circumstances they were in prior to their sexual exploitation, and the ongoing education of participants was found to be often compromised during the reintegration process.

‘The reintegration assistance support is not enough. Twenty USD a month and a bicycle is not enough money for me to continue studying. The shelter social workers only come for less than ten minutes every few months so they do not know my difficulty.’”

(Female, 2012)
Miles, Heang, Lim.
End of Year Progress Report 2012,
“Challenges and Barriers to Education and Training”, 2012. p89.

“Familial poverty seems to drive the majority of these [difficulties in work and school], pressuring boys to quite school and pursue ways of generating income to support their family’s basic needs. For instance, a respondent cites that his grandfather forced him to stop his studies in order to take up vocational training with his uncle. He describes that his grandfather does not believe in the importance of finishing school and prefers to that he takes up vocational training, which can earn money faster…

‘I stopped my schooling because I had no support for my studies from [the shelter NGO] anymore. So, I need to learn repairing skill with my uncle, even though I don’t like it.’”

Davis, Havey, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang.
The Forgotten Cohort, 2016. p17-18.

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6.    Due to a lack of proper re/integration protocols, oversight in the stabilization of the family, and limited community resources, the participants have been forced to ‘move where the opportunities are’—this being in or out of country, multiple times a year, and/or without proper social support increasing their vulnerability to re-exploitation

“Almost no participant describes staying with the same family unit over three or four years. The following story by one survivor in 2013 exemplifies the blending and changing nature of her family unit during one year:

‘I live with my stepmother, father, and older sister. My stepmother and I don’t get along together. She is always making conflicts and arguing with me. My father got in a traffic accident and injured his hand. I will go to live with my real mother in the province because she called and asked me to live there. I want to move out with my cousin. Some of my neighbors are very client towards my family. They yelled at my little siblings and hit my Aunt. I moved to live in a rental room with my older sister and cousin. I wanted to earn money to help my older sister support us because she was the only one working. I tried working in a nightclub quit because it was not a good job. I could find other work. I moved back to live with my father, he asked me to come back home. My father didn’t want me to live alone. My older sister married and moved out to live with her husband. I still don’t get along with my stepmother.’”

(Female, 2013)
Morrison, Miles, Schafer, Heang, Lim, Sreang, Nhanh.
Resilience: Survivor Experiences and Expressions,“4.2 Relationships”, 2014. p25.

“The majority of male cohort [68%] demonstrates significant housing instabilities during their re/integration periods. These instabilities seem to come from a number of factors they are faced with upon re-entering their communities. Among this majority, nearly a third (32%) of respondents state that they had to move from their home communities to search for work. Twenty-six percent cite having to change where they lived due to violence at home or in their communities. Other reasons for housing instability include: migration to avoid an exploiter who still lived in the community, international migration of a parent, migration due to a parent’s incarceration and/or release from prison, and migration for education”

Davis, Havey, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang.
The Forgotten Cohort, 2016. p18.

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7.    Also because of limited re/integration protocols and inattentive social workers, the participants don’t have access to the social capital to overcome compounding traumas after their ‘case has been closed’ (i.e. poverty struggles, violence in community, death of loved ones, etc.). The Butterfly Researchers have heard many respondents say to them that they are willing to meet with the team over the years, because they are the only people who will actively and confidentially listen to their stories and emotions.

Sometimes I asked him [husband] how and if he considers me. I asked him if he thinks that I have no heart, no ideas, and no brain and that is why I am able to receive whatever he does. Nowadays, does he know how I feel? I asked him if he knows about how I got sick and how our son got sick. Did he understand how I survived? He said nothing. Then he said with rude words that I did not have a brain, I didn’t know [anything]. And he told me not to talk to him because I do not have brain, I am like a dog, I do not know how to think.”

Morrison, Miles, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang, Bun.
Survivor Experiences and Perceptions of Stigma, “Loss of Opportunities in Education”, 2015. p34.

“I am happy to see and talk to you because even [NGO] who works based in my community, they had never come to visit and ask me like you do. I am happy. It seems like they don’t care about us anymore after my case was closed. They don’t care what I am doing right now.”

(Chivy, female, 2016)
Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care,“Varied experiences with case closure”, 2018.

“While no specific or diagnostic questions on emotional health were asked during interviews, it is nevertheless notable that nearly half of the male respondents seem to demonstrate a decline in emotional health as time progresses. This trend appears to be diverse and manifests in a variety of ways, including: low self-esteem, severe anxiety, anger/combativeness at home and work, isolation from family and/or peers, and suicidal thoughts…

‘We are in debt… I feel sad about this matter so much! Sometime I want to commit suicide by taking poison pills!’”

Davis, Havey, Lim, Nhanh, Sreang.
The Forgotten Cohort, ”Life Beyond: Poor Emotional Health”, 2016. p22-23.

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8.    Furthermore, the participants who now have children (married [arranged or out of love], or not married at all) deeply seek for them to be taken by an NGO shelter program so that they know their children are safe and are given the resources they cannot provide due to the instability of their livelihoods. 

“Thirty-one (31) participants in the assessment [out of 77 BLR survivors] took part in some form of vocational training, whether before or during re/integration. The assessment also tracked whether participants utilized their vocational training skills in their employment after re/integration. For example, if their vocational training was focused on sewing, the indicator tracked whether their employment had anything to do with sewing, such as working in a garment factory or a home-based tailor business. This indicator was tracked for 27 participants; 18 participants did utilize their vocational training in some way in the employment during re/integration, and 17 did not. Seven of these participants both did and did not utilize it at some point; for example, some participants tried to set up a home business but later abandoned it due to faulty equipment or inadequate income.”

Smith-Brake, Lim, Nhanh.
Economic Reintegration of Survivors of Sex Trafficking, “Vocational Training & Employment”, 2015. p47.

DoCarmo, Lim, Nhanh
Pathways to Re-Exploitation, 2018.

“I don’t even know what they should do as the leaders don’t even know what they should do too…To me, I think that if they want to provide skills for women, they should allow us to study for the whole day. Please don’t ask us to learn how to sew bags for half-day and salon half-day. Time is quite short in a half-day, as we just sit there, the time is over…To make the skill helpful, they should focus on the training skills and conduct specific trainings. They should provide certificates to the participants to make it easier for them when they open the shop. 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 (laugh).”

(Chea**, female, 2015)
Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care, 2018.

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9.    As of 2017, 19/64 female participants who had stayed in shelter program and then subsequently re/integrated back into the community, are or have been in re-exploitative situations (sexually or for labor).

DoCarmo, Lim, Nhanh
Pathways to Re-Exploitation, 2018.

“Of the seven participants who responded they had been sexually active with more than one partner in the past year…four participants said they had been paid for sex…three [of these participants] said they, ‘felt they had been sexually exploited’

The broker who finds clients for me takes some of my money when I have sex with the clients.’
(In-depth Interview, Female, 2011, Declined NGO Assistance)

‘My boss took half of my earnings after I had sex with the client.’
(In-depth Interview, Female, 2011, Declined NGO Assistance)

‘My boss forced me to have sex with the clients.’
(In-depth Interview, Female, 2011, Declined NGO Assistance)

Miles, Glenn & Siobhan.
End of Year Progress Report 2011,
“Perspectives about Sexual Exploitation”,
2011. p105.

“Two years earlier, when the participant turned 18 years old, she told the research team that she left the shelter and went to live at a KTV establishment in another town because she needed to help her sister with her newborn baby. During that time, the research team was able to visit the participant at the KTV. Over the course of the past two years, it has appeared to the team and to the former AP that the boss has increasingly limited the participant’s freedoms and agency. He forbade her to leave the premises and took away her phone. Throughout this time, the former AP and the Butterfly Research team continued to maintain contact. Though the AP offered to help her leave, she refused to go.

Early in 2013, the participant disclosed to the Butterfly team the ‘real reason’ she returned to Karaoke sex work. She stated she was deeply disappointed with the shelter’s re/integration financial support. When she learned from a friend about the money she could earn in Karaoke she followed. Later this past year, the team learned from the former AP, the participant had ‘escaped’ for a few hours and had asked for their help to get free. By the time the AP were able to locate her at the police station, she had changed her mind. The AP felt the KTV owner and the police were colluding to keep her at the venue. Since that time, the owner has forbidden her to have any contact with the Butterfly Research team or the former AP.”

Miles, Heang, Lim, Sreang, Dane.
End of Year Progress Report 2013, “Vignettes About Participants Involved in Sex Work During 2013”, 2013. p67.

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10.   Out of the 20 interviews done in February 2018, the Butterfly research team has assessed that only five participants have stable livelihoods (healthy social support, stable and enough income, safe living environments). To all of the participants, when asked what their definition of a, ‘successful life’ is, there has been a major focus on stable and good income.


“Most of the victims who stayed in the shelter were not successful. They succeeded only 3 to 4 of them. Some of them are working in the organization. Some of them work at different places… They sometimes said that it was easy to live in the organization and they did not do anything. They have someone to take care them. They have food to eat. They have people to bring the food for them and they can sleep well. They can learn and so on. They thought that it was easy for them and when they go home, they think work at home is difficult for them. They speak badly to the members of the family.”

(Nimul**, female, 2016)
Cordisco-Tsai, Lim, Nahn.
Experiences in Shelter Care, “Vulnerability in the community due to dramatic difference between shelter and community life”, 2018.


The full report is available for download here. For more information on our research please visit our butterfly page here. All research and publications are available for download on our resource page here

*You may some of these findings to be disturbing but rest assured that all has been shared with our NGO partners and throughout the Chab Dai networks.  It has always been our intention that whatever is discovered during the Butterfly Longitudinal Research will continue to be discussed and, where possible, integrated into Anti-human trafficking service providers' programming. 

**Not actual name.


Joseph ArnholdComment