In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that nearly 21 million people were victims of human trafficking, including approximately 5.5 million children, trafficked primarily into forced labor and sexual exploitation. The need for victim related services is great and, sadly, growing. Victim services range from legal assistance to safe havens; employment training to mental health rehabilitation.
In this conversation summary, resources, approaches and examples were shared to assist practitioners fighting against human trafficking. Conversation leaders discussed communication and institutional barriers to providing services to trafficked persons.
Developing Support Programs & Services
Human trafficking is a complex crime, with different elements, degrees of coercion and abuses. A needs assessment and a risk analysis are needed to determine the specialized services required on a case by case basis. Pressing needs, including mental health services, housing, job training and education programing, should be considered in individualized assessment and service portfolios. Human trafficked persons need to be involved in every step of the process, including implementation. Victim-centered approaches are more successful than singular standpoints. An effective victim centered system requires a horizontal process to address different services, ensuring a range of resources are provided, and a vertical approach to understand types of victims and their specific situations. Policy frameworks should incorporate this holistic approach to build capacity within the state and in civil society. Below are examples of unique needs, identification strategies and services for different types of survivors:
Migrant workers: The procedure to address migrant workers is different than other survivors for legal reasons. For example, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) organized discussion with different stakeholders, including both public and private organizations, to advocate for and design anti-trafficking legislation specific to migrants.
Domestic minors/ transition-aged youth: minors under the age of 18 and transition-aged youth ages 18-24 are more likely to form addictive relationships with their traffickers and pimps, which can result in Stockholm Syndrome. Some of the services especially needed for minors are tailored education programing and nuanced legal services.
Foreign nationals: beyond the need for basic necessities, issues that must be addressed for foreign nationals include family reunification, language access, and immigration relief, dependent on age.
LGBQT: issues of stigma may arise differently for LGBTQ victims of both sexual/labor trafficking.
Children: other indicators of trafficking, such as possession of goods/money not accounted for, missing from local authority care, living with guardians other than parents, etc. may be pertinent to identifying victims.
Women: cases in which women are labeled as prostitutes, or undocumented immigrants, may not be processed as effectively and may penalize the victim.
Barriers to enacting and implementing holistic human trafficking policy manifest in legal systems. Police officers often lack the training and skills to effectively identify trafficked persons, leaving the courts in a complicated position. Different approaches to victim identification and treatment exist between police and other trafficking experts/ service providers. Police trainings and monitoring laws are integral to ensuring effective law. Providing safeguards and ‘reflection period’ can shelter trafficked persons from unfair investigations and protect mental health needs. National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can be vital to hold governments accountable and create multi-sectoral accommodations to provide redress to survivors. This capacity encompasses both the state and international organizations such as NGOs.
Communities play an important role in the prevention, protection and prosecution of human trafficking crimes. They can raise awareness, report cases of trafficking, participate in trainings, and provide necessary support and services. While there is the potential for positive intervention, societal and community responses can be debilitating, as victims are stigmatized, feared, and excluded. Examples such as community forum theatres and Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s supportive societies demonstrate the possibility to bridge the gap between survivors and community members. Changing the language surrounding human trafficking can combat stigma. For example, the distinction between the words ‘labor trafficking’ and ‘sex trafficking’ is false, and its usage can be harmful. Using phrases such as ‘trafficked/trafficking into the sex industry’ or ‘slavery’ may help diminish stigma.
Awareness building and trainings do not only apply to communities, but they are also necessary for law enforcement, counselors and health care workers. Law enforcement can leverage restricted resources. Law enforcement officers often understand neither the role of victims as advocates, nor the incongruities in their own protocols, so police trainings relating to awareness building, proactive investigation, community policing and victim interaction are important. Trainings should extend to all levels of law enforcement. Because police interests can clash with NGOs, as well as courtrooms and attorneys, the government’s role is to manage stakeholders and create holistic human trafficking policy. Similar to law enforcement, training is necessary for healthcare providers to recognize signs of human trafficking and initiate next steps. Trainings should extend to counselors, as they often lack the language, experience and cultural training to effectively engage with trafficked survivors.
Challenges to Providing Support Services
Lack of state determinism is a large barrier to providing services to human trafficking survivors. For organizations assisting survivors obtaining financial and human resources is a challenge. Provision of reintegration services, such as education empowerment, crisis counseling, and economic assistance, can be time-consuming and complicated. Bureaucracy can be a barrier to access basic state services. NGOs need to develop stronger links with government agencies. Lack of state resources may prevent provision of housing for victims, placing them in a dangerous position. Legal services, including T-visas may place unjust requirements on victims. Additionally, labor trafficked persons may require other services not fully met by trafficking services alone.
When NGOs attempt to find funding from private donors, they sometimes resort to perpetuating harmful media narratives related to trafficking. The narrative depicts a ‘sympathetic’ victim who could have been ‘anyone’s daughter.’ By framing human trafficking as sexual exploitation of a female victim, it can bar boys/men from obtaining emotional health and trauma-related services they may need. Of course, the gendered narrative hurts women as well, and both men and women need to be presented in a positive, strength affirming way. While using such an uncomplicated narrative may help NGOs and other organizations obtain funding, it harms trafficked persons. For example, law enforcement in Los Angeles and San Francisco focused heavily on young women pertaining to trafficking, but boys and transgendered victims were also at risk. It can also be difficult to portray the realistic, nuanced reality of human trafficking survivors if potential donors expect a different story. This leads to media violation of anonymity.
- The Safe Harbor Legislation and No Wrong Door Approach of Minnesota employ a victim-centered approach.
- The Runaway Intervention Project offers victim-centered, trauma-informed services through a multi-disciplinary collaboration.
- La Strada International implemented the project Comp.Act- European Action for Compensation for Trafficked Persons to ensure that survivors receive compensation for unpaid labor.
- CAST Los-Angeles created Survivor Leadership Programs to empower victims to raise public awareness on human trafficking.
- Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) provides services for victims and addresses root causes of trafficking through projects, such as Child Friendly Village.
- Covenant House New York’s relationship with law enforcement encourages police to make referrals similar to social workers.
- La Strada Bulgaria mixes housing for different vulnerable groups to compensate for a lack of beds for trafficked peoples.
- Urban Light specializes in providing services for male survivors of human trafficking.
- LEFÖ cooperated with trade unions and migrant rights organizations to use labor legislation to access services for trafficking victims.
- Two important European provisions demonstrate how policy can guarantee the rights of trafficked persons.
ASTRA: Anti-trafficking action