Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims. How Are Victims Identified?

12/15/2009

Despite the hidden nature of human trafficking, a variety of frontline workers, including healthcare workers, mental health professionals, social workers, and school personnel, have the potential to encounter victims. Additionally, community-based organizations, faith leaders, and citizens are also often in positions where they encounter victims of trafficking. As public awareness of the problem has grown, victim referrals from these groups to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and service providers have increased significantly (Caliber Associates, 2007).

While there has been an increase in referrals from these service providers, the majority of referrals to NGOs continue to come from Federal and local law enforcement (Caliber Associates, 2007). Many documented cases of domestic and international trafficking have been the result of law enforcement task force investigations. To facilitate these investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched the Innocence Lost program in 2003. As part of this initiative, the FBI established task forces in cities with the most reports of prostituted youth; currently, task forces exist in 27 cities. Similar multidisciplinary anti-trafficking task forces have been funded in 42 communities across the country with the goal of identifying, investigating, and prosecuting cases and providing the protection and services needed by victims (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006).

Law enforcement personnel report that they are often coming in contact with victims of human trafficking through the investigation of other crimes (Clawson, Dutch, & Cummings, 2006; Venkatraman, 2003), especially prostitution and commercial vice. In many localities, those arrested for prostitution or commercialized vice once were viewed as criminals subject to arrest, detention, and/or deportation if undocumented, but are now often viewed and treated as possible victims of a heinous crime (Chase & Statham, 2005; Clawson, Dutch, & Cummings, 2006; Hyland, 2001). While this shift has not been achieved consistently and requires ongoing education, training, and commitment on the part of agencies and their officers, many victims are benefiting from this shift where it is occurring (Clawson, Dutch, & Cummings, 2006).

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