Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims. How Effective Are Services for Victims of Human Trafficking?

12/15/2009

Current research suggests that services available for victims of human trafficking are meeting some of their needs (Bales & Lize, 2004; Caliber Associates, 2007); however, these studies have been limited and have tended to focus on international victims. Findings from these studies have identified a number of barriers and challenges to accessing and providing services. Despite the definition of human trafficking provided by the TVPA, proper identification of victims remains one of the greatest challenges; there still are inconsistencies in how law enforcement and service providers define victims and handle cases. Additionally, inconsistent protocols (including questions to ask and techniques for interviewing victims) are used to screen victims of trafficking (Clawson, Dutch, & Cummings, 2006).

Once victims are identified, provider policies and practices can create additional challenges and barriers. Examples of such barriers include restrictive rules at shelters; concerns regarding confidentiality, including concerns over reports to child protective services; lack of age-appropriate groups and culturally appropriate services; lack of trust in staff due to high turnover; and the need for increased assistance and support to leave the streets (Aviles & Helfrich, 2004; Dalton & Pakenham, 2002). Providers themselves can also face a number of challenges in serving this population, including the following: lack of resources to provide intensive case management and follow-on/aftercare services for extended periods of time (Dennis, 2006); lack of training (e.g., how to gain victim trust, effective outreach methods, cultural competency, confidentiality) (Bird, 1999; Clawson et al., 2004); ineffective coordination of services across agencies (Clawson, Dutch, & Cummings, 2006); safety concerns for victims and staff (Clawson et al., 2004); lack of monitoring of service quality (Lyons & Rogers, 2004); inability to identify and respond to the co-occurrence of emotional and behavioral problems (especially among adolescents) (Mark et al., 2006); and a general lack of service availability within a community, particularly the availability of appropriate interpreters/translators, secure housing, and affordable medical/dental care (Clawson et al., 2004).

In terms of the effectiveness of the programs and services for victims of human trafficking, little research is available. What is known is limited to two studies that examined services for international victims of human trafficking (Bales & Lize, 2004; Caliber Associates, 2007) and anecdotal information from providers and victims. While little evidence exists to support the effectiveness of specific services for victims of human trafficking, providers have begun to agree on some potential promising practices, especially in working with prostituted children; however, it should be noted that comprehensive evaluations of such practices do not exist (A. Adams, personal communication, March 2006; Caliber, Associates, 2007; N. Hotaling, personal communication, June 2006; R. Lloyd, personal communication, May 2007; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2002; K. Seitz, personal communication, October 2006). Identified components of promising practices include safety planning, collaboration, relationship development/consistency, culturally appropriate services, and trauma-informed programming.

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