Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims. Do we know who the victims of this crime are?

12/15/2009

While the definition of trafficking was not always understood or consistently applied, it was clear from this study that the victims of human trafficking who were being encountered by study respondents included males and females, adults and children. The forms of trafficking seen by the providers and law enforcement in this study included sex and labor trafficking in the food service, agricultural, and garment industries. Victims of domestic servitude also made up some of the trafficking seen by providers and law enforcement. According to respondents, almost all sex trafficking victims they worked with were female and all of the male victims were trafficked for labor. However, many of the male victims were sexually assaulted as part of the intimidation and violence used by the trafficker to keep them enslaved.

Just as the literature and prior research have suggested, while the statutory terms used to define trafficking are relatively clear, victims of human trafficking did not consistently fit into these discrete classifications. What was fairly consistent, however, was the characteristics of those victims served by providers and encountered by law enforcement. According to respondents, victims tended to come from poor, high-crime communities, with minimal education, lacking family support, and often presented with poor self-image and low self-esteem. Some providers worked with clients with histories of sexual abuse, mental illness, and substance abuse. These combinations of risk factors were associated frequently with victims of sex trafficking.

Interestingly, while many of the programs and law enforcement reported coming into contact with international and domestic victims of human trafficking, very few reported working simultaneously with both victim populations. Service providers predominantly served international victims, both adults and children, or domestic victims. While law enforcement encountered both, different task forces or special units tended to handle either international or domestic victims. This bifurcation was seen primarily as a function of funding restrictions, capacity within an organization, and the result of organization mission and priorities.

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