Primary Sources: Before We Can Help Trafficking Victims, We Have to Identify Them

Photograph of a young person standing outdoors.

"Identifying Domestic and International Sex-Trafficking Victims During Human Service Provision" (abstract). Rebecca J. Macy and Laurie M. Graham. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 13(2) 59-76 (April 2012).

What it’s about: In an effort to help service providers identify and assist sex trafficking victims, the authors culled through 20 documents -- research, government reports and documents produced by organizations that work with U.S. and international sex-trafficking victims. 

Why read it: The authors of this article say service providers in a variety of settings, including domestic violence and homeless shelters and community clinics, are likely to encounter sex trafficking victims. Knowing how to identify victims will help providers offer culturally competent services that help exploited people heal from the complex trauma they've gone through.

Biggest takeaway for family and youth workers: Because they may be unaware that there are protections for trafficking victims, survivors of trafficking may not mention their situation, and as a result, providers may not meet all of their service needs.  “In light of this serious knowledge gap, providers need a set of practice protocols and screening questions to help identify sex-trafficking victims, regardless of where and when they appear in the human services system,” the authors write. Based on their review of the literature, they compiled screening strategies and questions to help identify sex-trafficking victims.

For example, the authors found that common red flags that someone has been trafficked included a lack of family support, a history of sexual or physical abuse, or signs of fear, depression or submissiveness. If a youth or family worker notices any of those red flags, the authors write, there are a number of steps they can take to help:

  • Interview the potential victim alone
  • Report to local authorities
  • Be aware of relevant trafficking policies and services
  • Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline
  • Give victims multiple opportunities to give information during the intake process
  • Use an interpreter, if necessary
  • Maintain confidentiality

Additional references: For more information, check out this Ask NCFY piece on helping victims of trafficking. Our downloadable brochure “Bought and Sold” also provides helpful information about what victims need and when to involve the police.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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