Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature. Conclusion


Despite increased attention to the problem of human trafficking into, and most recently within, the United States, knowledge and understanding of the issue remains fairly limited (Albanese, Donnelly, & Kelegian, 2004; Derks, Henke, & Vanna, 2006).  Research on trafficking has focused primarily on estimating the scale of the problem, mapping routes, and reviewing policies and legal frameworks (Gozdziak & Collett, 2005). 

Very little is known about the prevalence of trafficking and the number of victims; characteristics of the victims and perpetrators; the long-term impacts of human trafficking on victims, their families, and communities; the effectiveness of anti-trafficking programs; and best practices in meeting the complex needs of victims.  More specifically:

  • There is little literature on effective programs and services designed specifically for victims of human trafficking.  Information from more than a decade of work with victims of domestic violence, prostitution, homeless and runaway youth, and victims experiencing trauma in general provide most of the general groundwork summarized here, and there is a need for research that explores the applicability and effectiveness of these approaches with victims of human trafficking.
  • While there is little hard evidence to support the effectiveness of specific interventions or services for victims of human trafficking, it is possible to identify components or characteristics that seem promising in services and strategies for trafficking victims and similar populations based upon the limited information available.
  • In looking at promising models to assist victims in their recovery, indications are that survivors may be in the best position to assist peers, working in collaboration with clinicians.  However, there is limited research evidence about the impact of peer models on recovery.
  • With limited research, more needs to be learned about the health implications of human trafficking and the medical needs of all types of victimsmales, females, adults, and children.
  • Trauma treatment research and studies of manualized treatment options, especially those programs working at the intersection of trauma and co-occurring disorders in adolescents, are quite limited.  While the literature is extensive on PTSD in children and youth, no published literature is available on controlled studies of adolescent interventions.
  • Limited information is available regarding substance abuse treatment for adult victims of human trafficking.
  • Research specific to substance abuse in minor trafficking victims is also extremely limited.

What is known about victims of human trafficking is focused primarily on the trafficking of international women into the United States for sexual exploitation, with little attention to domestic trafficking, minor victims, and in particular, male victims of sex and labor trafficking.

However, a richer source of information based on more rigorous research studies can be found in related fields, as demonstrated in the current literature review.  Inferences can reasonably be made from what is known about victims of domestic violence, torture victims, child sexual exploitation and prostitution, and runaway and homeless youth, and what we expect to find from similar studies of international and domestic victims of human trafficking.  In the absence of existing studies, conclusions can be drawn only from overviews, commentaries, and anecdotal observations and experiences of providers and others in the field (Gozdziak & Collet, 2005).

The challenges associated with combating human trafficking and protecting victims are overwhelming but manageable.  Many NGOs feel that a multi-dimensional approach to addressing trafficking should include not only legislative initiatives and crime prevention, but also social welfare, job training, rights protection, and development initiatives in the source, transit, and destination countries and locales (Caliber Associates, 2007; Richard, 1999).  Effective strategies should be comprehensive and provide for collaboration among governments, governmental agencies, NGOs, advocacy groups, service providers, survivors, and affected communities (Miller & Stewart, 1998).  Intensive case management, comprehensive services provided through partnerships, and ongoing outreach and education most likely will produce an effective response to the needs of victims.  Ongoing communication with existing programs and documentation and assessment of their activities will offer valuable lessons for the field.  NGOs working with different groups of trafficking victims (e.g., sex trafficking or labor trafficking, males or females, adults or minors) and populations with similar needs (e.g., torture victims, refugees, minor prostitutes, runaway and homeless youth, victims of domestic violence) represent an untapped wealth of practical knowledge and expertise on how to develop appropriate assistance and treatment programs for trafficking victims and survivors.  More research is needed to document these evolving approaches and strategies, provide results that will inform and strengthen the response by sectors already involved in combating trafficking, and serve as best practices for those communities wanting to replicate this work.

Federal and State laws addressing specifically the crime of human trafficking are less than a decade old, and while some of the literature for this review was drawn from prostitution research or other related fields, much remains to be learned about persons who are trafficked into and within the United States.

This review of the literature, along with a series of issue briefs and the final study report, can be downloaded from the following Web sites:

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