Help Identify and Refer Victims
Although there are believed to be tens or even hundreds of thousands of trafficking victims in the U.S.,[i] less than 1,000 have been identified since trafficking was made a federal crime in 2000.[ii]Therefore, the most immediate and important need in ending human trafficking in the U.S. is identification of the victims. We need your help with this - as well as the help of your colleagues, friends and family. You can learn to identify and report suspected cases of trafficking, while educating those around you to do the same. In this way, we can work together to ensure this crime doe not continue on our watch. This section provides a brief overview of finding victims.
The following list describes challenges that service providers and law enforcement officials face when trying to identify and provide support to victims of trafficking:
1. Trafficked persons tend not to ask for support due to:
- Shame, embarrassment or stigma
- Self-blame due to degradation and brainwashing process routinely used to control victims (this can result in an inability to view self as a victim)
- Fear of retaliation or deportation
- Isolation or lack of social support and connections
- Learned helplessness
- Lack of knowledge of available services
- Lack of knowledge of victims' rights
- Lack of trust
- Language differences
- Cultural differences
- Feeling of indebtedness to traffickers
2. Trafficked persons also tend to have low levels of formal education and/or unique cultural backgrounds and:
- Find it difficult to navigate the court system
- May perceive law enforcement as threatening or unreliable.
3. Trafficked persons may be immigrants that:
- Are trafficked within "closed" ethnic communities, which means that victims, traffickers and abusers (customers, johns) are of the same ethnicity - Russian, Indian, Korean, Mexican, etc.
- Are not aware of their rights and legal protections
- Fear retribution from traffickers
- Feel intimidated by a system that they believe seeks to punish them
4. There are specific cultural barriers to accessing victim cooperation:
- Women from some cultures may be reluctant to seek assistance in cases of sexual abuse or violence
- In some religions and cultures women are taught to assume a "submissive" role to men
- Violence from men may be tolerated and viewed as "normal" in some cultures
- Victims may believe that it is "normal" for them to be beaten and enslaved since they are undocumented
- Victims may risk social ostracizing and social stigmatization
- Women may fear that relatives will discover their involvement in prostitution
- Men from some cultures may be reluctant to admit that they have been victimized or felt afraid[iii]
Quick Guide to Victim Identification - Red Flags
There are some indicators which may raise a red flag that a person may be a victim of human trafficking. You may want to take a second look at situations where a person(s):
- Appears to be under someone else's control. They appear to be under surveillance at all times. All or most contacts with family, friends, and professionals are controlled and monitored. They are rarely alone.
- Are unable to move to a new location or leave their job.
- Do not manage their own money or their money is largely controlled by someone else.
- Are not in control of their own identification or travel documents.
- Work excessive hours.
- Are unpaid for their work or paid very little.
- Live with multiple people in a very cramped space.
- Live with their employer.
- Have no English language skills or knowledge of the local community.
- Appear to have little privacy or are rarely alone.
- Appear to have visible injuries or scars, such as cuts, bruises, or burns. May have injuries around the head, face, and mouth from being struck in the head or face.
- Have untreated illnesses or infections, particularly sexually transmitted diseases. May have general poor health and/or diseases associated with unsanitary living conditions.
- Exhibit submissive behavior or fearful behavior in the presence of others.
- Exhibit emotional distress such as depression, anxiety, manifestations of trauma, self-inflicted injuries or suicide attempts.
- Engage in prostitution or living in a brothel.
- Are sexually exploited in strip clubs, massage parlors, pornography.
- Are under the age of 18, in prostitution, or hanging around adult entertainment businesses such as strip clubs, massage parlors, adult book/video stores, etc. [iv]
Questions to Ask
The following questions can help you identify victims if you encounter them:
- Are you now being (or have you at one time been) held against your will?
- Were you ever forced or intimidated to do something against your will?
- Do you have a choice of where you work and how much you work?
- Have you been abused or beaten by your employers?
- Can you come and go as you please?
- Are you paid?
- How many hours/day and days/week do you work?
- Have you or your family been threatened to prevent you from leaving?
- Upon arrival in the U.S. did someone ask you to pay back a debt?
- Are you doing what you were told you would be doing in the U.S.?
- Who has your passport/identification papers? [v]
- It is important to talk to potential victims in a safe and confidential environment. If the victim is accompanied by someone who seems to have control over them, discretely attempt to separate the person from the individual accompanying him/her, since this person could be the trafficker.
- Enlist the help of a staff member or another professional who speaks the potential victim's language and understands his or her culture.
- Do not collect more information than you need! In depth interviews with the potential victim should be conducted by mental health professionals, law enforcement professionals or legal experts. Multiple interviews may confuse and/or re-traumatize victims and may put you, as a service provider, at risk of being subpoenaed as a witness.
Comprehensive Guide to Victim Identification
(Excerpted from Hiding in Plain Sight by Donna Hughes, Ph.D.)
The following are examples and indicators of force, fraud and coercion that are used by traffickers to control victims. These should be considered signs that a victim is under the control of someone else and that further investigation is needed.
Examples of Force
- Kidnapping or recapture of an escaping victim
- Buying and selling of a victim from a recruiter to trafficker to pimp
- Battering, including hitting, kicking, pushing
- Torture, such as burning with cigarettes
- Threats with weapons
- Rape, sexual abuse, and harassment (unless the woman is fully consenting to the commercial sex acts, each act of prostitution should be considered to be a sexual assault)
- Imprisonment, confinement, or kept under guard or electronic surveillance
- Use of restraints, such as being tied up
- Denial of food or water
- Denial of medical care or medications
- Denial of contraceptives or condoms
- Forced pregnancy or abortion
- Forced to give up custody of children
- Forced into humiliating or compromising situations so that photographs or videos can be made (these images may be used to coerce the victim into cooperating with pimps or risk exposure to friends, family, or police if the act is illegal)
- Forced use of drugs or denial of drugs once a victim is addicted
- Forced participation in acts of violence against other victims
- Forced to lie to friends and family about their safety, well being, and whereabouts
- Forced to lie to men in the brothel that they are consenting, enjoy their "work," and earn large sums of money
Indications of Force
- Injuries from weapons, such as knives, guns, clubs; visible injuries or scars, such as cuts, bruises, burns or rope burns; head, face, and mouth injuries from being struck in the head and face
- Brands or scaring indicating ownership
- Untreated illnesses or infections, particularly sexually transmitted diseases; general poor health; diseases associated unhygienic living conditions, such as tuberculosis
- Emotional distress and psychological manifestations of trauma, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, self-inflicted injuries, and suicide attempts
- Inappropriate or shifting loyalty to an abuser resulting from the perpetrator's systematic control of the victim through alternating violence, threats, and rewards; i.e. manipulation, indoctrination, Stockholm syndrome, brainwashing, traumatic bonding
- No English language skills or knowledge of how to move about and live in the local community
- Living on the same premises as the brothel or driven between the brothel and living quarters by a guard; living quarters locked, under electronic surveillance or guarded
- Heavy security at the brothel, barred windows, locked doors, isolated location; women never seen leaving the premises unless accompanied by someone
- Restricted public access to brothel: Access allowed only to members of a particular ethnic community, gang, or worker group; advertisement of the brothel only through word of mouth or foreign language publications
- Woman kept under surveillance when she is taken to a doctor, hospital, or clinic for treatment; pimp or a minder may act as translator
- Moved with other women on a circuit of brothels
- Signs usually associated with domestic violence: pimps/traffickers are sometimes "boyfriends," "partners," or members of the victim's family
- Victim is provided with an attorney or bail by the pimp/trafficker in order to control her testimony or get her released into the custody of the pimp/trafficker
Examples of Coercion
- Debt bondage: Victim is required to engage in a certain number of commercial sex acts or earn a certain sum of money before she can leave
- Threats of serious harm to the woman or her friends and family at home
- Control of her children
- Trafficker/pimp controls all her contacts with family, friends, or people outside the brothel
- Photographing or videotaping the victim in compromising or illegal situations, then threatening her with exposure to friends, family, or police; threatening to post pornographic images of the victim on the Internet or send them to family members
- Identity and travel documents, such as passport and visa, taken away
- Forced to watch pornography in order learn prostitution or stripping
- Manipulation of the victim's earning ability, so a woman who voluntarily engages in jobs such as hostess or dancer finds she has to engage in prostitution to earn enough money to repay a debt or buy food
- Punishment of another woman (including beatings, rapes, mutilations, even murder) in front of other victims to demonstrate what happens to those who do not obey
- Denial of clothing or clothing other than "sex industry costumes" so woman is reluctant to leave the premises
- Trafficker/pimp controls all money, including that which belongs to the woman
- Fines for rule violations in the brothels
- Involvement of the victim in criminal activity, such as a drug courier or manufacture of drugs
- Quotas for amount of money that must be earned or number of commercial sex acts each day
- Victim sees evidence of police or official corruption or collaboration with pimp/trafficker
- Threats to turn the woman over to the authorities with expectation that she will be imprisoned or treated harshly
- Threats to have the woman deported with expectation that upon arrival home she or her family will be harmed
- Threats to harm the woman or her family if she reveals anything about the trafficking operation
- Verbal or psychological abuse that intimidates, degrades, and frightens the victim
Indications of Coercion
- Victim is not in possession of identity or travel documents
- Victim is fearful of police or officials
- False accusations of abuse or neglect, particularly of children, or criminal activity are made about the victim
- Signs of threats usually associated with sexual harassment or stalking
Examples of Fraud
- Promises of valid immigration or travel documents, such as a green card and work permit
- Victim instructed to use false or counterfeit identity and travel documents
- Victim signed a contract to do legitimate work
- Victim is required to do work that is different than what was originally described
- Promises of money, salary, or earnings that never materialize or only sporadically
- Misrepresentation of work or conditions of work
Indications of Fraud
- Victim was lied to about any aspect of his or her travel, employment, living conditions, or treatment
- Victim does not know how identity or travel documents were obtained or was escorted through the process
- Someone else obtained all official documents
- Someone else made all travel arrangements
- Victim was coached on what to say to officials
- Victim does not know or understand the terms of the contract he or she signed; contract was in a language he or she could not read; terms of contract are illegal under general business practices
- Victim had to pay a fee to someone to arrange travel and transportation
- Victim was smuggled across borders
Who Should Report Suspected Cases of Trafficking?
There are a number of people who may come in contact with victims of trafficking. Anyone can report suspected cases of trafficking, and some people are mandated by law to report abuse. If the victim is a child (under the age of 18), every state in the U.S. mandates that certain people report suspected cases of abuse or neglect: law enforcement officers, health care workers, social workers, mental health professionals, and school personnel . Some states also mandate commercial film or photograph processors and substance abuse counselors to report abuse and neglect. Four states--Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, and South Dakota--include domestic violence service providers on the list of mandated reporters. Approximately eighteen states require all citizens to report suspected child abuse and neglect.
At this point, most local and state law enforcement officials are unaware of Trafficking Victim Protection law or even the concept of trafficking in persons. Traditionally, they have been taught that all parties involved in prostitution are criminals and should be treated accordingly. Also, most immigration officers only see illegal foreign nationals as illegal immigrants. This lack of awareness is starting to change, but most victims of trafficking still go undetected and are treated as criminals or, in the case of illegal immigrants, deported after they come to the attention of police or immigration. Advocates for victims of trafficking are encouraged to educate all authorities and professionals they deal with about trafficking.[vi]
[i] Based on the interpretation of 2 sources based upon the legal definition of trafficking: 1) Estes, R.J. & Weiner, N.A. (2001). The commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. 2) Bales, K. (2002). International Labor Standards: Quality of Information and Measures of Progress in Combating Forced Labor. Paper prepared for National Research Council Workshop on International Labor Standards: Quality of Information and Measures of Progress.
[ii] Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons. (2004, June). Washington, D.C.
[iii] Based primarily upon San Diego Resource Manual developed by Project Safe Haven, STOP Human Trafficking and Slavery and B-SAFFE Project.
[iv] Based on questions from 3 sources. The first two are pocket reference cards: one was developed is a product of the Dept. of Health & Human Services Rescue & Restore Campaign, the other is a product of Metro DC Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery (ACTS). The third is the San Diego Resource Manual developed by Project Safe Haven and B-SAFFE Project.
[v] Hughes, Donna. (2003, October). Hiding in Plain Sight: A Practical Guide to Identifying Victims of Trafficking in the U.S.