Web Forum Shares Tips on Providing Services to Young Victims of Human Trafficking

Photograph of a teen girl with a thoughtful expression on her face.

Last month we shared advice from two runaway and homeless youth programs about how to look for signs of sex trafficking when young people come to your organization for shelter and support. We also listened in on a Web forum cosponsored by the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime and its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Fiona Mason and Danny Stewart of Safe Horizon, a New York anti-violence organization, co-hosted the one-hour session, which discusses best practices for providing services to runaway youth and victims of human trafficking session. Here are a few tips from the forum that we think you might find valuable:

  1. Document the need to help young victims of human trafficking. Data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline provides an idea of the types of calls they receive regarding potential victims. NHTH breaks down the data by state. If your program is already dealing with victims of trafficking, you may want to team up with a researcher or evaluator to help quantify the problem. You can collect your own data from trafficked youth with whom you work, and use this information to support applications for funding.
  2. Understand that trafficked youth may not see themselves as victims. Runaway and homeless youth are dealing with issues of survival, like food, shelter, and safety. The person who provides them with housing, food, and clothing is not necessarily someone they will see as an abuser. Also, the trafficker may be near their own age, someone they consider a romantic partner or friend.

    As in all your relationships with young people, develop trust over time and don’t be parental or authoritative. Keep in mind that trafficked youth do not have a great deal of control over their lives, so information about themselves is something they may be reluctant to share at first.
  3. Help your local authorities take a ‘victim-centered’ approach. Advocates for trafficked youth stress that these young people should be treated as victims of violence and coercion, rather than criminals to be prosecuted. To protect young people, you need to know the laws, and you may need to educate local law enforcement. For example, Safe Horizon works with the New York City Police Department and provides training about how best to help runaway and homeless trafficked youth. (We recently wrote about an anti-trafficking partnership between service providers and the police in Dallas.)

    It also helps to build alliances with local child protective services, departments of juvenile justice, and state governments.

Read the transcript of the Web forum “Providing Services to Runaway Youth and Victims of Human Trafficking.”

9-5 pm Eastern