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Identifying and Responding to Human Trafficking

Thursday, July 30, is the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. According to the United Nations, nearly every country is impacted by human trafficking in some capacity.

Identification

Human trafficking is a massive violation of human rights, with an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 victims in the United States alone. It’s a crime that relies heavily on vulnerabilities.

Therefore, while anyone could become a victim of trafficking, there are certain factors that may increase the likelihood of victimization. These include but are not limited to poverty, religious persecution, family violence, and marginalization resulting from ethnic minority status, sexual orientation, gender, gender nonconformity, or the presence of physical or mental health disabilities.

Traffickers may also target those with temporary or no legal documentation, using immigration status and language barriers as leverage to reduce their victims’ chances of escape. This is sadly common within the United States, where a majority of victims are immigrant women and children.

Traffickers themselves are opportunistic exploiters who lure potential victims with false pretenses or use coercion to take advantage of an individual’s vulnerabilities. Perpetrators who present as their victims’ employer often operate their unregulated “business” out of the public view, which makes it difficult to identify both them and the people they exploit.

Response

Human trafficking crimes must be accurately identified so survivors can receive specialized assistance.

This can be difficult to achieve, as survivors may resist help from law enforcement for a variety of reasons. Perpetrators often brainwash their victims into thinking that help is completely unavailable, weaponizing the trafficked person’s vulnerabilities to keep them quiet and dependent.

In response to formal questioning, trafficked persons sometimes lie or attempt to mislead investigators, fearing for their safety. For example, some survivors may worry about being charged with a crime, facing deportation, or seeing retaliation from their trafficker if they reveal information about themselves and their situation. If a survivor avoids answering, it is important for law enforcement and related professionals to reassure them that they are not in trouble.

Cases for survivors of violent crimes are processed separately from those in immigration and other cases. The Trafficking Victim Protection Act gives survivors special status, and they are streamlined through government channels to receive immigration benefits such as psychological counseling, employment authorization/training, housing, food assistance, and medical care. However, special status is not necessarily tied to a successful prosecution.


If you or someone you know has information to report about human trafficking occurring in the United States, please contact the National Human Trafficking Center.

Unless directly cited otherwise, the above information is derived from STM Learning’s Medical Response to Adult Sexual Assault 2E and Child Sexual Exploitation Quick Reference.

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