Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims. What is working in communities across the country to identify victims?

12/15/2009

Several communities across the country are engaging in promising practices and strategies to identify and serve victims of human trafficking.

Systemwide outreach and training. One of the most common and perhaps most promising strategies according to service providers involved direct outreach to entire systems. Specifically, outreach to child welfare agencies, police departments, juvenile detention facilities, healthcare systems, congregations, youth-serving agencies, and schools or school districts was viewed as essential to increasing the identification of victims. These are the types of agencies or systems that often come into contact with potential victims yet do not usually have the education or training to recognize the role they could play in identifying and assisting victims.

Outreach and education cannot be a one-time event. It must be ongoing in order to saturate an entire community and the agencies within those communities about the nature of this crime, the impact on victims, and the role each individual and system can play in the fight to end human trafficking.

Service provider

In these systemwide efforts, outreach and training were described as occurring from top down to bottom up within each organization to ensure the same information and message were being shared at all levels. Through outreach and training to entire systems, communities created an extended network of providers and organizations educated on the issue of human trafficking, and broadened the safety net for victims through increased chances of identification, better referrals, and expanded services. For example, in San Diego, Atlanta, Boston, Central Florida, and other communities across the country, NGOs were providing training to hospitals, child welfare agencies, law enforcement officials, Social Security offices, and the courts. However, more outreach and training to judges, officers, and solicitors within the criminal and juvenile justice systems was also seen as a priority for several communities combating human trafficking of international and domestic victims. In particular, educating these individuals and systems about the nature of the crime and the cultural differences and impact of trauma on the victims, including how they should react to the experiences and behaviors of victims, was an ongoing need for many communities.

Regardless of who was being trained, there were characteristics of promising training that many service providers and law enforcement agreed on, including:

  • Involve someone from the agency/group being trained as a co-trainer in order to increase access and credibility. For example, it was recommended that when training law enforcement, one should always pair a service provider with a law enforcement officer assigned to working trafficking cases to help deliver the training.
  • Incorporate information on human trafficking into existing training events/venues, whenever possible. For example, include information on trafficking in survival Spanish classes for law enforcement or during roll call and academies. Also, include human trafficking information during in-service training required for personnel working in most human service agencies.
  • Discuss human trafficking within the context of a larger issue, such as human rights, immigrant rights, or victims rights.
  • Conduct training with multidisciplinary teams to foster collaboration and communication among individuals who will need to work together on these cases.
Getting law enforcement, in particular ICE agents, to consider that an illegal immigrant may be a victim or getting a vice cop to consider that a prostitute may be a victim will not happen overnight. It is similar to what we saw in the domestic violence field. It has taken us decades to view domestic violence as a crime and to recognize that there are victims of this crime. We cant expect this same type of change to occur with trafficking overnight.

Service provider

Respondents strongly encouraged providing training to a wide variety of organizations, such as ethnic community groups, hospital/healthcare providers (HIV/AIDS clinics, family planning clinics, OB/GYN providers), RHY shelters, drop-in centers, churches, restaurants/bars, hotels, community businesses (grocery stores, beauty parlors), schools, and transportation systems (bus/train stations, taxi cabs).

Collaboration with local law enforcement. With regard to international victims of human trafficking, working directly with local law enforcement was viewed by both service providers and law enforcement as a promising strategy to identify more victims and provide them with services. Local law enforcement was seen as the answer by service providers in many communities because they generally were not concerned with (or required to ask questions about) immigration status. The approach adopted by many service providers was to work with local law enforcement and have them serve as the intermediary to identify a victim and bring the case forward to Federal law enforcement. This was viewed as particularly promising in jurisdictions where there was a history of contention between service providers working with immigrant populations and Federal law enforcement (i.e., U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE]).

Involving ethnic community leaders/members in outreach. Another promising practice in conducting outreach and identifying victims includes involving members of ethnic communities in the outreach efforts. It was noted by service providers that engaging key members and/or representatives from well-known and respected organizations within a community, in particular ethnic communities, was essential to reaching a larger audience. These individuals provide entry into the communities and credibility to the outreach workers and the message being delivered. In Florida, efforts were underway to train leaders in the community (clergy, community group leaders) on how to conduct outreach. Rather than train other providers and law enforcement, community members were receiving intensive training on human trafficking and being provided with the materials (outreach cards, flyers) to distribute throughout their communities to not only educate others about the crime but also hopefully pass the information into the hands of victims or those coming in contact with or becoming aware of victims (e.g., neighbors of victims of domestic servitude, hairdressers or salon workers, grocery store clerks). Another promising strategy was placing billboards in communities prone to trafficking to keep the issue present in the minds of citizens. Outreach was also being conducted through media outlets such as newspaper articles, public service announcements on public television and local radio stations (in particular, stations targeting ethnic populations), and flyers and posters in bus and railway stations and taxi cabs.

Involving survivors in outreach efforts. Several of the organizations conducting direct outreach to victims involve survivors of human trafficking in outreach activities as well as in the development of outreach materials. According to respondents, survivors provided credibility and a knowledge and understanding of the issue that was often difficult to translate through training to other staff. They also have unique insight into where to find potential victims and how best to approach them. However, it is important to note that survivors themselves need to make the determination of whether they are comfortable or ready to assist with these efforts.

Conducting direct outreach to potential victims. Despite these promising ideas and strategies however, direct outreach to victims was limited. It was viewed as too dangerous for staff and too difficult given the hidden nature of the crime. In those cases where direct outreach to victims did occur, it often followed a crisis response model with staff on call and available 24/7. Additionally, some agencies created dual roles for outreach staff who served as case workers or managers in addition to conducting direct outreach to victims. In this way, the rapport and trust that was established on the street was carried over into service delivery. For service providers, this saved valuable time that allowed them to optimize the limited stays allowed by mandates and funding streams. Across the board, the key to successful direct outreach appeared to be consistency, trust, and follow-through.

There were also direct outreach efforts to potential victims underway in Florida and San Diego that targeted potential victims of labor trafficking. Service providers and advocacy groups were conducting direct outreach at day labor pick-up sites, in flea markets, and at migrant workers rights marches to provide information on human trafficking and available resources for victims. Sex trafficking, in addition to labor trafficking, was being addressed at these events because, as one respondent indicated, Often times, the migrant workers are the johns for the women and girls being trafficked for sex.

Unfortunately, there were many agencies conducting direct outreach to at-risk populations (and even prostituted children) that were not focusing on the issue of human trafficking. Instead, these street outreach programs were concerned with informing street youth (regardless of whether they were involved in prostitution or other commercial sex activity) about available services and educating them about harmful behaviors (e.g., alcohol/drug use, unprotected sex, poor hygiene). None of the street outreach programs visited was using any human trafficking related materials. The link between trafficking and runaway, homeless, and thrownaway youth was not being made by most youth programs and, therefore, potential victims were likely going unidentified. This finding points to an area where significant improvement could be made by better coordination and collaboration.

Targeting populations at risk for human trafficking. An attention to risk factors and the connection with human trafficking was occurring among some law enforcement. A promising strategy to identify more child victims of domestic sex trafficking employed by two local police departments involved focusing outreach and investigations on children who present with risk factors for trafficking. For example, the High Risk Victims Unit in Dallas was investigating cases of child prostitution, child sexual abuse, and repeated runaways to determine if trafficking was present. Additionally, this law enforcement unit had developed an interview process and protocols grounded in an understanding of the dynamics of exploitation, the impact of trauma on memory, and adolescent development. This approach has prevented many investigations from dying during the interview process, as do many others that follow a standard approach. In fact, in 2005, the investigation of 136 high-risk victim cases resulted in 83 open investigations and 63 felony charges against 42 suspects. In 2006, the investigation of 130 high-risk victims resulted in 93 open investigations and 77 felony charges against 37 suspects.

Once we identify someone as a victim, the system is forced to treat them [sic] as a victim and provide services.

Law enforcement officer

In Boston, local police were looking closely at youth at risk for domestic sex trafficking by examining missing persons reports and CHINS (child in need of services) cases. Following these case reviews, law enforcement notified probation and social services of the overlapping cases. This sent up red flags for these children and cast a safety net of agencies and individuals looking for these children across different systems (e.g., juvenile justice and child welfare). These approaches by law enforcement demonstrate the need and the payoff of expanding outreach (and investigation) efforts to not only potential victims but also those at risk for trafficking.

Trauma-related Needs

The effects of trauma are severe and often present in both emotional and physical forms. Emotional effects of trauma include anxiety, panic disorder, major depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, and pervasive mistrust of others. Physical effects of trauma include direct physical injury (e.g., broken bones, bruises, contusions) and stress-related illnesses (e.g., stomach pain, headaches, and other unexplained ailments). Addressing the effects of trauma requires short- and long-term medical and mental health services.

While there was some quantitative evidence of increased victim identification as a result of these promising outreach strategies, most evidence was anecdotal. No empirical studies have been conducted to demonstrate a link between these outreach strategies and increased identification of victims, with the exception of the internal review conducted by the High Risk Victims Unit in Dallas. With each new approach (and in particular, each federally funded effort), some form of evaluation is needed to begin determining what works and where to best devote limited resources in order to identify more victims of human trafficking.

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