While the definition of human trafficking and recognition of individuals as victims appears to be clear to some service providers and law enforcement, particularly those receiving Federal funding to address this crime, there are still many who do not have this understanding and are in positions to identify and assist victims. Additionally, just being able to define the problem does not necessarily translate into an ability to identify victims. The challenges to identification are many and include foremost the hidden nature of this crime; a lack of awareness and understanding among organizations and the general public that come into contact with potential victims; misperceptions about who is a victim, especially among victims of sex trafficking, including domestic child victims; limited resources for law enforcement to devote to the intensive investigation associated with these cases; and a lack of priority placed on these cases by most law enforcement agencies. All of these factors work against the ability of those on the ground to rescue and restore victims of this heinous crime. But there has been progress in overcoming these challenges, and as a result, more victims are being identified.
Once identified, victims appear to be getting most of their basic needs addressed even with the complex nature of the needs of these victims, whether international or domestic. They require comprehensive services and treatment that span a continuum of care from emergency to short-term to longer term assistance. However, like identification, meeting the needs of victims is not without challenges. It can take months and often years for victims to become self-sufficient. The timeline for serving each victim is different and often unpredictable. And the challenges to accessing timely and appropriate services are ongoing. Some services, such as emergency housing for men and boys, permanent housing, specialized medical and dental treatment, mental health/counseling services, and substance abuse treatment remain either unavailable or difficult to access. This is true for both international and domestic victims. Yet, through continued (and expanded) collaboration among agencies, including those funded through the HHS Rescue and Restore coalitions and per capita program, and innovative strategies and promising practices, there are more services available today for victims of human trafficking than at any time in the past.
Across the country, communities have begun making progress in the fight against human trafficking. There is better education and training being provided to entire systems of care (e.g., social service agencies, child welfare systems, juvenile justice systems, healthcare systems), law enforcement, and communities. Outreach is occurring to community leaders and businesses that may come in contact with potential victims. There is also direct outreach to potential victims occurring in migrant communities and on street corners. Many agencies, including law enforcement and shelter providers, have instituted better screening and interviewing procedures and protocols to assist in identifying potential victims. Centralized case management is being provided to international victims through the HHS-funded per capita program and other federally funded programs, and case management for domestic victims, currently a significant gap for this population, will soon be available through federally funded demonstration programs. Lastly, the development and use of task forces, coalitions, and other multidisciplinary teams has generated more dialogue, more awareness, more information sharing, and more coordinated assistance to victims of human trafficking.
However, while much progress has been made since the passage of the TVPA and the availability of Federal funding, the evidence of this progress remains for the most part anecdotal in nature. Formal assessments and evaluations of these innovative strategies and promising practices from the start are essential to documenting what works (and what does not) and providing other communities across the country with replicable and effective approaches to education, identification, outreach, and service delivery. For this to happen, and for service providers and law enforcement to continue to have an impact, human trafficking needs to become a community issue and priority. Entire agencies and communities overall need to recognize the problem and take responsibility for the solutions, including identifying and assisting the victims of this crime, whether international, U.S. citizens, or LPRs; victims of sex and/or labor trafficking; males or females; adults or children.
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