Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims. What are the needs of victims of human trafficking and how do they differ?

12/15/2009

Once victims are identified, determining their needs is a crucial next step for law enforcement and service providers. However, it is not always the case that the needs of victims are a priority for some law enforcement. Organizations receiving Federal funding to provide services for victims reported having formal procedures and protocols in place (on which all staff were trained) for assessing the needs of victims. For all respondents, foremost in the process is assessing the safety needs of the victim. Safety plans are tailored to fit the individual clients needs. Next, an assessment of basic needs is conducted. The most common basic or immediate needs beyond safety include emergency housing, basic medical assistance, food/clothing, legal services, and translation services for international victims. Longer term needs include assistance with accessing documentation (e.g., birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, work permits), life skills training, job training, education, mental health services, specialized medical assistance, permanent housing, child care, and in some cases, reunification with family or repatriation.

While the needs of victims did not vary based on type/length of victimization, gender, and age, the level of need was reported to vary for some victims. For example, for some victims, the length and circumstances of the sexual exploitation resulted in higher levels of trauma. Additionally, while both international and domestic victims often presented with a need for immediate employment and financial assistance, the need was reported to be more pressing for international victims given the financial dependency of the victims families back home (often the reason for falling prey to the trafficker in response to promises of a better life in the United States). However, service providers also noted that meeting this immediate need was difficult given the employment restrictions on international victims prior to their being certified. Additionally, the type of legal services, with the exception of information regarding their legal rights, varied as might be expected for international and domestic victims (e.g., immigration assistance for international victims versus assistance with emancipation for domestic victims). Translation services were also reported as a predominant and often hard to meet need for international victims compared to domestic victims. In addition to finding appropriate translation services given the number of languages and dialects represented by victims, in some cases it was difficult to ensure the interpreters did not have connections to the traffickers.

A common need that cut across both short-term and long-term needs for international and domestic victims was the need for advocacy and assistance to successfully navigate the various systems that victims interacted with (e.g., schools, social service agencies, insurance agencies, legal professionals, courts, child welfare, mental health/counselors, and transportation). In working with international victims, this responsibility falls primarily to an assigned case manager, often funded completely or partly with Federal funding. There is no specialized funding to provide case management services for domestic victims, and they often do not receive such assistance unless it is available under an existing program, such as a shelter or other public assistance program.[10]

In general, the needs of international and domestic victims, as shown in Table 2, are similar. However, availability and access to the services required to meet the needs of victims do vary and are discussed in the next section on services for victims of human trafficking.

Table 2.
Needs of Victims of Human Trafficking
  International Domestic Children
Adults Children
Emergency
Safety X X X
Housing X X X
Food/clothing X X X
Translation X X  
Legal guardianship   X X
Short-/Long-term
Transitional housing X   X
Long-term housing X   X
Permanency placement   X  
Legal assistance X X X
Advocacy X X X
Translation X X X
Medical care X X X
Mental health/counseling X X X
Substance abuse treatment     X*
Transportation X   X
Life skills X X X
Education X X X
Financial assistance/management X   X
Job training/employment X X X
Child care X   X
Reunification/repatriation X X X
* While substance abuse treatment may be a need for international victims,
providers contacted by this study only identified it as a need for domestic child victims.

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