Francis Maiava is a problem solver.

"I've always been social justice minded, community minded," he said.

So when he learned that the forced prostitution of Burmese women was rife in Bangkok's slums, Maiava could not ignore the issue. Instead he spent three years analysing its complexities and developing a solution - a "multi-dimensional" community policing strategy.

He said for the "cohesive solution" to be effective, police would have to work together with the courts, health system and immigration department.


"Human trafficking is actually a complex issue to address. It cuts across into a wide range of spheres."

Maiava published the findings of his research as a Master's study through Massey University.

Maiava drew on the investigation and problem solving skills he honed in his career, which included an eight year stint in the Palmerston North police as a community constable and detective constable, followed by a role as a building compliance investigator at Auckland Council.

During his time in the police force Maiava had spent a year in East Timor, helping to develop a community policing programme there.

"The police there have adopted the concept successfully. I've seen the benefits of [community policing]," he said.

The 45-year-old researched his Master's study fulltime while in Thailand. The family had moved there because his wife was managing the Southeast Asian market for Immigration New Zealand at the time.

Maiava first found out about the illegal sex industry in Bangkok while volunteering at Nak Suu Rugby Academy in the city's slums run by two New Zealand-born Samoans, teaching kids basic numeracy and literacy as well as rugby.

Maiava soon discovered that many of the children who attended the academy had been trafficked from Burma, along with their mothers and sisters, who had been forced into prostitution. When they arrived in Thailand traffickers confiscated their passports and the women were forced to work in horrifying conditions in Bangkok karaoke bars, brothels and massage parlours.

Maiava interviewed some of the victims, as well as people working on the frontline to prevent trafficking. "It's about giving these victims a voice."

As he dug deeper he discovered that an overwhelming number of immigration officers and police had been bribed to overlook trafficking.

Maiava recommended Thai police recruit Burmese officers to break down language barriers and to help authorities rebuild the trust of trafficked women. He presented his findings to two Thai superintendents.

However, he added that for the strategy to work, there needed to be a major culture shift within the police force.

Maiava was honoured as the top student in Massey's Master in International Security programme last week. New Zealand police teaching fellow Dr Nick Gilmour supervised his research.

Carter Quinley, who grew up in Thailand and now works for Kiwi charity Nvader combating sex trafficking in southeast Asia, is currently in New Zealand.

Quinley echoed Maiava's comments that a cultural shift was needed."It takes a network to combat a network", she said.

She described Bangkok as "an epicentre and hub for trafficking of victims from around the globe".