FVPSA Addresses the Intersection of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence

A diverse group meeting around a table.

A report from the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program (FVPSA) at FYSB highlights the nexus between domestic and sexual violence and human trafficking.

Intersections of Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, and Sexual Assault is a recently released report that shares information and recommendations from a roundtable hosted by FVPSA in September 2014. The event included three listening sessions: one with community-based organizations; another with tribal communities and programs; and a final session with state domestic and sexual violence coalitions.

“Listening sessions are a way for federal agencies and partners to really hear from the field,” said Chic Dabby, executive director of the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence and facilitator of the roundtable. “[Listening sessions are] how the field can bring its experience, expertise, and knowledge to inform a different but related set of problems.”

The goals of the meeting were to:  

  • Identify the challenges and success of models and strategies to deliver survivor-centered, trauma-informed services.
  • Articulate policies that sustain coordination without causing unintended consequences.
  • Build capacity across federal, state, national, and local agencies and systems.

“I was delighted that [what was] brought to the roundtable was so relevant, vibrant, and can be applied,” Dabby said. “It also set out areas that need more attention.”

Among other topics, the listening session with community-based organizations covered who is exploited, services, collaboration between law enforcement and advocates, and emergency housing. The report contains a nonexclusive list of important skills for trained advocates to have in order to provide survivor-centered care. The list includes safety planning; knowledge of legal remedies that apply to trafficked victims; the ability to evaluate whether connection to family and community will be helpful or harmful; and knowledge of, and relationships with, local resources and community-based organizations.

The report notes that victims may not be “emotionally, physically, or financially” able to break away from a trafficking situation during their early encounters with service providers, so providers need to use a “revolving door” model that serves victims whenever they are ready.

Staff from tribal communities and programs discussed challenges they face, including legal loopholes limiting a tribe’s ability to prosecute non-Native American perpetrators of crimes of sexual violence on tribal land, and the need to address trafficking in tribal criminal codes. Participants also reported on such other challenges as a lack of resources that makes evidence gathering difficult in domestic and sexual violence cases, and children’s increased vulnerability to trafficking because of limited educational opportunities and the prevalence of substance use.

State domestic and sexual violence organizations face challenges as well – such as the legal system’s inability to deal with the number of trafficking victims, especially minors; the dangers posed to advocates by violent traffickers; and the organizations’ limited resources to house victims.

Recommendations from the meeting included training local law enforcement to identify victims and their needs; establishing standards of practice in domestic violence and runaway and homeless youth shelters that can be adapted to house trafficking victims; and promoting knowledge exchange and support between tribal and non-tribal programs.

Both runaway and homeless youth and FVSPA programs can learn a lot from each other, Dabby said. Many domestic violence programs aren’t designed to specifically serve minors and can learn those skills from runaway and homeless youth programs.

“What can be learned by both sets is being able to understand how the dynamics of abuse differ and how that impacts assessments of danger [and] risk factors,” she said. “That would allow for a better examination of strategies needed to immediately deal with the crisis and long-term solutions.”

Read the full report.

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