Supportive Societies

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Supportive Societies

Thank you to all the Conversation Leaders for their time and commitment to taking part in this important conversation on support services for victims of human trafficking. Please take a moment to learn about the conversation leaders by clicking on their profile photos. Thank you!

Below is a list of questions to serve as a framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • In what ways can neighborhoods or communities have an impact on supporting victims/survivors of human trafficking?
  • In what ways does law enforcement play a critical role in providing victim related services? How can this be improved?
  • In what ways can governments play a more active role in providing or supporting victim related services?
  • How can health care systems increase knowledge and capacity of victim centered care?
Community Impact on Survivors of Human Trafficking

When it comes to human trafficking, everyone plays a role. Communities are instrumental in deterring human trafficking, reporting potential cases of trafficking and providing much needed support and services. Many of us often forget that we do have a purchasing power and that the products we buy affect others. Communities and individuals need to be aware of companies that use slaver labor and/or engage in exploitive practices and make an effort to purchase products that are Fair Trade. There are several apps (Free2Work, Good Guide, Free World) that community members can download in order to find out if the products they are purchasing are produced using slave labor.

Communities may also report potential cases of trafficking either to local NGOs, National Hotlines specifically designated for trafficking, or Law Enforcement Agencies. In order to report, communities must be willing to receive training or take the time to learn about red flags often present in trafficking cases. There are several websites such as Polaris Project that provide useful tools for both service providers and community members that want to get involved.

Lastly, communities can have an impact on survivors of human trafficking by donating funds, products and services to agencies that work directly with survivors of human trafficking. The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” can also be used in cases of trafficking survivors. It takes a village to help and support a survivor. We all have talents that we can use to support a survivor, whether that means teaching English, providing a medical exam at reduced cost or simply by donating clothing or hygiene products that the survivor may need.

Law Enforcement's Role in Provision of Victim Services

Law enforcement plays a crucial role in providing victim related services. Many law enforcement agencies have Victim Assistance Specialist whose role is to assess survivor’s needs and provide appropriate referrals and services. Some agencies may even have access to emergency funds which can be used for housing, food, clothing, medical and much more. The issue with accessing emergency funds is that not all Victim Assistance Specialist are aware of the funding and often do not utilize the funds putting an addition strain on NGOs often limited resources. This can be improved by providing additional training for Victim Assistance Specialists and NGOs advocating for additional support.

Law Enforcement's Role in Provision of Victim Services

This is an excellent point. Law enforcement can play a critical role in victim services and often can leverage resources that are not otherwise available. At the same time, law enforcement protocols must effectively ensure that services are not conditioned on participating in prosecutions and that those services use victim-centered, trauma-informed approaches to meet victims with what they need. We have seen excellent examples of law enforcement building strong and trusting relationships with victims so that they can seek safety, even if that work never results in a conviction. Access to services should not be used as a means of leverage against a victim to force testimony.

Supportive Societies

Law Enforcement

In Los Angeles, law enforcement is increasingly aware of human trafficking - even within the rank and file - but often unable to understand the role of a victim advocate or incongruities in their own protocols surrounding victims. On the one hand progress has been made to recognize the need for supportive services for victims. On the other hand, through diversion, probation, and law enforcement programs and protocols, victims are mandated into servicies as a condition to prevent arrest or clear arrest charges.  The noton that victims are victims and should not be arrested or mandated into anything is still a concept that needs education and re-education. For NGOs it becomes a tough decision - to fully cooperate with law enforcement on emergency response or planned operations with the aim of improving treatment of victims, or to bow out of the 'raid and rescue' process because the protocols are not aligned with victim-centered approachess.

Community Intervention and Support

Naturally, communities can play a critical role in prevention, protection and prosecution. In prevention, many of the push- and pull-factors for global human trafficking correlate to community issues - economic factors and job opportunities, domestic violence, gender equity and roles, corruption and gang activity, rule-of-law and access to justice, etc.  In protection, community knowledge and norms may contribute to stigma or promote survivor-centered services. Communities can  also 'vote' through ballots and wallets, demanding transparency in supply chains and rewarding companies for global stewardship, or helping to pass legislation that funds needed victim services.In prosecution, especially in the democratic context, communities can help turnaround a culture of neglect and/or impunity surrounding the prosecution of human trafficking, and serve as watchdogs to prevent corruption and ensure fair and equal access to justice for all.


           Police officers

           Police officers have to be trained effectively in order to fight any kind of crime, and especially if it concerns a delicate crime such as human trafficking. Police officers have to go toward the crime scene, instead of waiting for victims to come to their office and complain. Human trafficking’s victims fear police forces. They don’t recognize themselves as victims, they don’t have money, and they can’t do any simple task without referring to their boss.

          Furthermore, approaching this crime as any other regular crime will not allow police officers to identify and illuminate this crime. So, the training of police officers will consist of awareness training, proactive investigation, and community policing.

          This training has to be accomplished by all police officers, whether they are administrative, investigators or patrolling officers. Police officers have to recognize indicators, do reactive investigations and rely on building a strong and trustable relation between police and victims. Doing so will enable the police to set long-term undercover operations, and will help control human trafficking’s networks and operations. After receiving effective training, police officers will definitely be able to conduct well-organized investigations.

           The use of indirect questions is a must, in human trafficking’s investigations due to the fact of dealing with vulnerable people. Some question examples (I was wondering if you can tell me about, I would be interested in hearing about, etc.). Interactions with potential victims should be conducted in isolation so as to mitigate the influence of potential traffickers. Interpreters who accompany potential victims must be avoided because they may be operating on behalf of traffickers.

Quote:On the other hand,

On the other hand, through diversion, probation, and law enforcement programs and protocols, victims are mandated into servicies as a condition to prevent arrest or clear arrest charges.  The noton that victims are victims and should not be arrested or mandated into anything is still a concept that needs education and re-education. For NGOs it becomes a tough decision - to fully cooperate with law enforcement on emergency response or planned operations with the aim of improving treatment of victims, or to bow out of the 'raid and rescue' process because the protocols are not aligned with victim-centered approachess.

This is interesting. I don't know how US legislation is, but as I mentioned in another post, in Europe the legislation clearly states that victims of trafficking cannot be prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit during the trafficking situation, e.g. illegal entry or stay, engaging in prostitution, drug dealing, committing petty theft, etc. Also, if there is indication of trafficking (even if not confirmed), law enforcement has to refer the person to services. Of course, there is a difference between how things are on paper and in practice and law enforcement needs to be trained to know the laws and recognise signs of human trafficking. And in most of Europe prostitution is tolerated and sex workers are not arrested or are detained for 24 hours and then released. And I haven't heard of 'diversion programmes' here, much less forced ones. But perhaps this is something that NGOs need to advocate for. 

And I think it's important for NGOs to maintain their independence and human rights and victim focus, which means not 'bowing' to the needs of law enforcement. We've had many cases where the police was 'angry' at us for not encouraging the survivor to testify, when she doesn't want to or when we've determined that it's against her interests and safety. But there's always a friction between the interests of the police, who seek to identify a crime, and the interests of NGOs, who seek to identify a person in need. 

Victims as victims

The same is true in the U.S. - in principle and in law. Such records can be expunged or cleared, usually with the help of an attorney or through probation departments (but under probation it is contingent on successful completion of programs). The issue is one of training of law enforcement and jurisdiction at the time of identification.  CAST has argued in many instances and for a long time to keep victims from being charged, or from being 'diverted' to mandatory services. The notion that a victim is a victim (and cannot be charged) is more widely accepted for minors. Part of the complexity is that many young adult victims (18-24) have formed attachments to their traffickers (like Stockholm Syndrome) and/or are deeply afraid of traffickers who may be connected to dangerous gangs, and therefore they boldly assert to law enforcement that they are not victims - that they are willing sex workers. And prostitution is illegal in most of the U.S. (but not all counties or states, such as parts of the state of Nevada). Thus these victims are charged, and unscambling that legal egg becomes the role of a legal advocate.

When CAST attorneys show up during a police operation, police are often not happy about the attorney's role - which is to be the victim's advocate, whether or not the victim wishes to cooperate with police. The same is true in courtrooms, with the prosecutor, and even with a victim's public defender (they sometimes get annoyed about 'turf' issues when a lawyer advocate from an NGO shows up). There has been progress - but this relationship is still a work in progress.  As I mentioned in another post, the federal government is now funding task forces comprised of stakeholders from law enforcement, NGOs, government agencies and others, with the goal of reaching consensus on process and formalizing protocols.  CAST was just awarded one of these federal grants, jointly with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles Metro Police, to do just that.

The role of communities

I agree that in principle communities have the potential to spot and report signs of trafficking and to show support to survivors. But in my experience, especially small communities in remote, rural areas, do more harm than good. They can be highly stigmatising to survivors of trafficking, especially of forced prostitution. Just consider these quotes from survivors from Nepal (original translation is kept):

No one can say anything in front of me, but people backbites that I was trafficked.”

The society does not treat me well, even if sometime they speak to be nicely in front of me, they talk behind my back and humiliate me. They do not behave nicely with me.”

They say even my sisters have got married, but because I am “like that” no one is marrying me.”

“Tell them about the problem, may be give them a little bit of knowledge on the laws, and they would understand that I was innocent. And maybe I would one day convince them.” 

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to educate whole communities (e.g. a village) about the issue of human trafficking and the experiences of the victims. Very often, because of the stigmatisation, it is counter-productive to return a survivor of trafficking to her source community. Apart from the stigmatisation of having worked in the sex industry, if survivors had migrated to make money for their family but returned without any, this is again seen as a failure and contributes to the isolation and can even lead to re-trafficking. On the other hand, if they did manage to return with money, the attitude is different. Again, a quote from Nepal:

“…when women come back after many years and have earned lot of money, they were treated well.” 

Thus before a decision is made to return a survivors to their community of origin, a careful assessment should be made whether this is the best option. If possible and viable, service providers should work with the survivor’s family too, to explain the situation and sensitise them. 

Role of Communities

I want to thank everyone for sharing such valuable information. The challenge of informing, educating and gaining the support of whole communities to work against trafficking is huge.

I was hoping that Bhuwan from Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), India would have the chance to join the conversation and share the incredible and innovative work that BBA has done, particularly in this area related to building "supportive societies". They have a wealth of experience and innovative ways of providing services to victims and addressing the issue at the root causes. I hope that Bhuwan will still be able to respond and share personally.

As a brief background, BBA has a legacy of over 25 years and rescuing over 80,000 children from slavery. BBA sees that child labor is both a cause as well as a consequence of poverty, illiteracy and even a lack of human security. They have stated that the most common forms of child labor include bonded labor, child trafficking, child prostitution and child domestic labor.

Regarding Services to Victims: BBA established Mukti Ashram, founded in 1991, which has emerged as a model for providing immediate support and access to services for children rescued from child labour and trafficking. Bal Ashram was founded in 1998 as the rehabilitation and training center of BBA providing for the special needs of victims of child labour. It provides rescued children with compassion, education and vocational training.

Prevention: But BBA also began working on the prevention end with a novel concept of the Bal Mitra Gram or child friendly village. This was initiated by BBA in 2001 to make villages and wards in India child labor free where every school-going child will be in schools. Their Child Friendly Village program is a micro model of their macro vision to make a child friendly world, where every child is free from exploitation, receives education, and enjoys health and their childhood. New Tactics worked with BBA to document this tactical innovation to inspire others in their efforts to combat human trafficking and child labor and advance the right to education for all. It is a commitment of the whole village to ensure that every child is enrolled and attending school, and has the opportunities to enjoy their childhood, be engaged in the children’s parliament and to build their leadership skills. The latest figures I could find shared that there are now 317 villages under the domain of Bal Mitra Gram (Child Friendly Village) and 80 new villages are on path to becoming Child Friendly Villages.

I'm interested to hear what you all think about this kind of idea spreading and being adapted in the countries where you work with victims of trafficking.


What you say is a true reality - but the extent to which it applies is often country and context specific.  I have lived/worked in the Balkans, in Moldova, in Bangladesh, in Kyrgyzstan, and in the United States, and the differences are immense in terms of stigma. That is especially true around sex trafficking, but also around labor traffikking.

One thing that stands out for me as hopeful comes from an example in Bangladesh around building survivor leadership and survivors doing public advocacy work. Back in 2008, the federal law only included sex trafficking for women and children (it was changed to be Palermo-aligned in 2012). That meant that communities knew a victim of trafficking was a victim of sex trafficking, and in a conservative country, the stigma was papable. As the law changed, and as labor trafficking survivors, including men, began to come forward as public advocates, victims of sex traffciking were able to join because it was no longer definitive which advocates had been victims of sex trafficking and which had been victims of labor traffickng. Ultimately, if we remove the labels 'sex' and 'labor' and use the term 'slavery' it might help.  All victims of trafficking are victims of labor abuse - be the labor sex work or other work.

One final comment

All victims of trafficking are victims of labor abuse - be the labor sex work or other work.

The week is over and perhaps the conversation too but I wanted to make a comment about this last statement. I completely agree with it but I couldn't not notice that throughout this conversation I was the only participant who didn't use 'sex trafficking' and 'labour trafficking' - not only the phrases themselves but also as two somewhat distinct phenomena. And because I have strong feelings on the subject, I'd like to elaborate a bit more. 

Regarding the phrases, I find them both, but especially 'sex trafficking', conceptually and semantically incorrect. Obviously, people are trafficked and not sex and the purpose of trafficking is exploitation and not sex! The phrase 'sex trafficking' removes both the human and the exploitation element and reduces a complex, traumatic issue to an empty sensationalistic phrase. I understand that it's faster and easier to say but our job is to provide services to people who have been exploited (not to sex, which has been trafficked:). So we should take this one extra second, that is necessary to say a longer phrase, in order to acknowledge the experience of our clients. For example, the more correct phrases 'human trafficking for sexual exploitation', 'trafficking of persons for sexual exploitation' or even simply 'sexual exploitation'. 'Sex trafficking' also contributes both to the impression that it is somehow more prevalent or worse than 'labour trafficking' and to the conflation of trafficking and sex work, which has been documented to harm sex workers. Not to mention other ridiculous expressions that you can often see, like 'human and sex trafficking' or 'human/sex trafficking', which make absolutely no sense - obviously 'sex trafficking' is part of human trafficking, you can't put an 'and' or a slash between them! Or the newly formed verb 'to sex traffic' (as in 'someone's been sex trafficked'). 

Regarding the distinction between 'labour trafficking' and 'sex trafficking' - it's also a false one and not as clear as it sounds. For one thing, in different parts of the world prostitution is legal and sex work is considered work/labour. Thus, as you pointed out, 'sex trafficking' is actually part of 'labour trafficking', but we don't see other distincions made like 'agriculture trafficking', 'construction trafficking', 'domestic work trafficking', etc. Can we imagine hearing that someone's been 'agriculture trafficked'? Or 'begging trafficked'? We would think it's a ridiculous phrase, wouldn't we? At the same time, victims of 'labour trafficking' can experience sexual abuse too, alongside the physical or psychological abuse during the period of exploitation. This is especially the case in domestic work, but can happen in other sectors too, as one means of keeping people under control. To distinguish so clearly between 'sex trafficking' and 'labour trafficking' means to negate the fact that sexual abuse can happen in other forms of exploitation too.

I know that these phrases are practically the norm in the US and almost in the English language itself, but if what I said above makes any sense to anyone, I think we should try, even as lonely warriors, to change this language. The organisations for which I work use phrases like 'trafficked/trafficking into the sex industry' and 'trafficked/ing outside the sex industry/sector' or 'trafficked/ing into other labour sectors'. 

The role of governments

I would like to elaborate a bit more broadly on the role of governments in preventing and combating human trafficking than only the area of victim support. 

In terms of victim support, governments (or municipalities) have to ensure that there are available and accessible services for trafficked persons, whether provided by the state/municipality or by NGO with state/municipal funding. In most of the EU, governments do provide at least some funding for shelters and other rehabilitation services but usually with some restrictions. For example, services are provided for a certain period of time - three months, six months, or may exclude undocumented migrants. Sometimes the government determines what services are provided/funded, which may not always be the services that survivors need. And education, qualifications or life-skills training are very rarely funded by the government. 

But in terms of preventing and combating human trafficking, the role of governments is too often seen as purely in investigating and prosecuting the crime, restricting migration and combating prostitution. This is a very simplistic approach that presents human trafficking as an isolated phenomenon, a problem of bad people doing bad things to poor victims. But it needs to be seen in the broader socio-economic and political context in the world. Otherwise, it’s like treating the symptoms and not the disease.

We often talk about vulnerabilities and vulnerable people, but vulnerabilities do not appear in a vacuum. Poverty, unemployment, inequality, injustice, gender-based violence, conflict, corruption, restrictive migration policies, lack of social protection, disregard for labour rights – these are all conditions that make people vulnerable to exploitation and a responsibility of governments. They should address these issues first, instead of just chasing after bad bearded dark men.

Governments should invest in education, job creation, living minimum wage, social protection, enforcement of labour rights, smart migration policies and equal opportunities for all their citizens. But right now we see a growing favouritism towards multinational corporations, relaxing of labour laws, reduction of social benefits and increasingly restrictive migration policies.

These are obviously complex and interrelated issues but it is exactly why we shouldn’t address trafficking by only prosecuting criminals, assisting victims and raising awareness. 

Health care systems

Our Survivor Ogranizer at CAST, originally from Indonesia, was trafficked into the U.S. for labor.  At one point (more than a decade ago), she was taken to a hospital by her trafficker to treat a head injury that resulted from the trafficker's brutality.  In the U.S., health care workers are well-trained in protocols to isolate a patient when they suspect domestic violence - but they were not trainied to recognize the signs of human trafficking.  The survivor did not speak English and the trafficker insisted on staying to translate during the medical treatment. Had anyone been more aware of the dynamic between the two, and been able to isolate the survivor, and engage a neutral translator - this survivor would have been identified years earlier instead of returning to her trafficking situation.

CAST and many service agencies now work with health care providers (medical and mental health) to help them better understand and recognize the signs of human trafficking and to equip them to know how to respond.  There are several private foundations (i.e Queenscare, Kaiser Foundation and others), as well as health care providers (i.e. Dignity Health and others) who are now funding and implementing programs to train health care workers.  Dignity Health, a large service provider, has hired a survivor to develop and conduct training for all of its hospitals.  County agencies (i.e. Department of Public Health, Department of Mental Health) also fund and conduct training.

Training is essential, but then what's next?

I so agree that training is crucial.  And health care providers are often in the best position to identify survivors.  So many times we see young people who deny any trafficking experiences when speaking with a case manager, but who then later open up to their OBGYN.  And I congratulate CAST on its wonderful work in this arena.  In addition to health care workers, we need to do more training of child welfare workers (since foster youth are at high risk of trafficking) and as mentioned in other threads, of law enforcement.  In law enforcment, I definitley think that highly trained officers in specialized units truly understand the dynamics of trafficking, but sometimes that training is not absorbed or given to the rank and file who are the first people that our trafficked youth will run into when in trouble.  Initial bad experiences with rank and file law enforcment members will make them less likely to turn to the police for help later on.

Although I firmly agree on the need for training, it is so important that services follow suit.  In New York, I feel like there has been a huge and somewhat successful push for traninign in a vareity of sectors,  but now more people are trained to identify survivors and yet there aren't enough service providers to refer them to.  Trainings must go beyond the identification of survivors and dynamics of trafficking and go into what can be done once a survivor is identified.  


Dedicated Anti-Trafficking Courts

In New York a great deal of progress has been made in training law enforcement that victims of sex trafficking are in fact victims and not criminals or prostitutes.  As on example, Covenant House New York now has a great relationship with the  Port Authority police who make referrals to us whenever they spot a trafficked youth in our age range.  Someone recently commented after seeing the Port Authority Police in action that they seem more like social workers than police officers.  Across New York we also have dedicated Anti-Trafficking Courts where anyone arrested for prostitution or any related offense is diverted to.  The judges and practitioners in these courts are trained to ensure that trafficking survivors receive services and help.  So far, these courts seem to be effective and a huge step forward from the days when those arrested for prostitution were treated harshly while the pimps and clients got off completely. However, it is a shame that before someone get the services in these courts, they are first arrested, reinforcing the idea that they have done something "criminal".   Does anyone else have experiences with these courts? 

Counseling Services for Human Trafficking Survivors

One of the challenges that we face in Atlanta is lack of appropriate counseling services. Since we work with foreign born victims of human trafficking we often find ourselves having to decide between cultural competency and understanding of the complexity of human trafficking. There are many counseling agencies in Atlanta, GA that cater to specific ethic communities. They understand the cultural norms, hesitancy to receive counseling, country conditions and have the language capacity to serve our clients. The issue that we often see is the lack of experience working with victims of human trafficking. We have done several trainings and provided technical assistance to counseling agencies and have come up short in a few cases. My recommendation for improving mental health services not only in Atlanta but globally would be funding for training of counselors. The trainers would need to be counselors themselves and have experience providing counseling to victims of human trafficking.


Thank you all for your comments, and participation. I had the following question: is providing anonymity a concern for organizations as they assist victims of human trafficking? How do they deal with such issues? 




Community Support

Human trafficking is often an endemic problem that affects its victims in detrimental ways. Starting from the coersion to the violence to the insurmountable abuse and finally in many cases death. While the State response is often unrelated to the gravity of the problem, the societal and community response is also often quite debilitating. In many cases, be it in labour trafficking or sex trafficking, the victims are stigmatized and most often considered a problem than a survivor or a victim. The societal response if one of fear and exclusion as opposed to being empathetic and open to the plight of the victims. The societal response is often analogous to the impact of human trafficking on the social fabric of the society. What is required is an all encompassing advocacy program that not only ensures effective State measures and mechanisms to help survivors of trafficking, but also brings together the community and the the people as the helmers of such a program. 

Some examples from Maldives include community forum theatres aimed at raising awareness about the support required for survivors of human trafficking. These programs entail the community coming up with their own scripts and issues and bringing the community together to discuss the issues in a common forum. The success lies in showing survivors or trafficking as human beings as opposed to social miscreants that only impact the country negatively. The aim is to show the strength of people. Whether it is the people trafficked for labour or those who are trafficked for prostitution. 

There is an unbridged gap that exists between the people and victims of human trafficking that needs careful consideration.