Signs You May Be a Human Trafficking Victim
- Your I.D. and/or Documentation has been taken.
- You are not free to leave.
- You are physically beaten for breaking rules.
- You or your family is threatened for your cooperation.
- You owe a huge debt and are not free to leave.
- You were/are forced to do sexual acts. You are forced to work for little or no wages and/or to pay debt.
- You were recruited for one job and forced to work another.
Questions For Victims/Potential Victims
- How did you get to the US?
- Where do you live, eat sleep? (often don’t know their own address, sleep on floors and eat when their “boyfriend” brings them food)
- Do you owe money or in any kind of debt?
- Are you allowed to come and go freely?
- Are you or your family threatened if you try to leave?
- Are you forced to stay in one place?
- What type of labor do you do?
- Does your boss keep your earnings?
- What hours do you work?
- Have you or anyone you work with been abused at your workplace?
- How did you learn about this position?
- Where were you living/working before you started working here?
Building a successful prosecution against a trafficker will typically require some level of assistance and cooperation from the victim. By employing careful interviewing strategies, law enforcement officials are more likely to gain victims’ trust, thereby increasing the odds of their participation in the criminal justice process.
Many trafficked persons have suffered months or years of physical and psychological abuse, displacement from familiar surroundings, and negative interactions with law enforcement or other government officials. Law enforcement officials must consider the fear the victim may be experiencing, the victim’s fragile emotional state, and the victim’s physical needs, and they must adapt the interview accordingly.
While specialized police or prosecution units can focus on cultivating interviewing expertise, everyone can benefit from the following basic victim-centered interview techniques.
Allay fears. Traffickers often hold victims in servitude through fear of their arrest and deportation by police and immigration authorities. Once identified by law enforcement, victims’ first thoughts are often not of rescue, but of the trauma of a raid and fear of arrest, deportation, and potential retaliation by the trafficker. They may have been provided with a cover story by their captors. Thus, their initial statements are often either incomplete or even falsely exculpate the trafficker.
To help avoid this situation, the following techniques have proven effective:
- Hold the interview in a non-threatening and comfortable location;
- Hold the interview outside the presence of others swept up in the operation that freed the victim (even other potential victims can have a negative effect, not to mention enforcers or accomplices who have blended in with the victim population);
- Never interview the victim within sight of the trafficker;
- Explain that the focus of the investigation is the trafficker, not the victim;
- Describe the victim’s rights, the interview process, and the roles of everyone involved;
- Express prior knowledge and experience with similar cases;
- Cross-reference information from other interviews being conducted and incorporate facts into the questions, giving the victim the feeling that the interviewer has done a sophisticated investigation into the traffickers’ operation and that the traffickers will not be released or able to retaliate;
- Make it known that a non-governmental service provider will arrange shelter, medical care, and food for the victim; and
- Ask if the victim has any questions or fears.
Demonstrate care and respect. Counteracting the victim’s preconceptions or fear of law enforcement can put survivors at ease and encourage candor. Police and prosecutors can use the following simple techniques to emphasize that they are trying to assist rather than arrest:
- Wear street clothes without obvious signs of law enforcement status, such as weapons;
- Provide food and drink, and incidentals including tissues, regular breaks, and a place where the victim can gain their composure;
- Use a professional interpreter who signed a confidentiality agreement to ensure accurate communications and to ensure that the trafficker’s associates are not involved and that the victim’s community is not informed of the crime;
- Be knowledgeable about the victim’s cultural background including social etiquette, religious observances, societal status, ethnic ties, clothing, and attitudes toward prostitution;
- Accommodate, when appropriate, the victim’s preference for an interviewer and interpreter of a specific gender or culture.
Meet physical needs. If immediate basic needs such as medical care, food, and housing are not met, it may be difficult for a victim to engage fully in an interview process. To overcome this potential impediment, law enforcement could conduct a brief initial interview and then plan for a more extensive interview after the victim has been assisted by a non-governmental service provider. When mounting a rescue for which there has been advance notice, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents now use a pre-packed care kit that contains a casual shirt and pants, underwear, socks, and basic toiletries, and they will often provide victims with temporary housing so they can sleep and eat before being interviewed. Relationships between law enforcement agencies and service providers are extremely beneficial; the latter can be available during a pre-planned trafficking raid, and the former can have reliable referrals at a moment’s notice.
At best, NGOs could participate in raid planning so that they are prepared to engage quickly and bring their insight into the victims’ particular culture or ethnic community.
Techniques of Control Used by Sex Traffickers as Outlined by the U.S. Department of State
A sophisticated understanding of the realities on the ground is necessary to ensure that sex trafficking victims are not wrongly discounted as consenting adults. Too often, police, prosecutors, judges, and policymakers assume a victim has free will if she has the physical ability to walk away. This assumption is wholly inconsistent with what is known about the nature of pimping and sex trafficking. The use of force, fraud, and coercion is pervasive but often overlooked. In its most obvious manifestation, a pimp will physically restrain a prostituted person’s movements and use physical violence to ensure the customers’ satisfaction. While this is undoubtedly a severe form of trafficking as set forth in the Trafficking Persons Protection Act, there are other more subtle forms of fraud and coercion that also prevent a person from escaping compelled servitude.
A prostituted person may have initially consented, may believe that she is in love with her trafficker, may not self-identify as a victim, may have traveled away from the pimp, or may have been away from his physical control with what seemed to be ample opportunity to ask for help or flee. She may have a criminal record and refuse to tell her story. She may have started in prostitution as an adult or as a child. None of these factors, taken alone or in sum, means that she is not a victim of a severe form of trafficking; rather, if such facts are prejudicial at all, they should move law enforcement to consider that they may not have the whole story. And all of these concerns are just as valid for men and boys in prostitution as they are for women and girls. Indeed, male victims may be less likely to admit that they were held through fear or threats.
The Trafficking Persons Protection Act’s modern approach recognizes the power of psychological coercion. Research and field experience suggest that violence and restraint – though hallmarks of the commercial sex industry – are far from the most effective means of control. Pimps use a variety of psychological methods, sometimes referred to as “seasoning” or “grooming,” to gain full control. They recruit vulnerable women or girls, pretend to be in love with them, ply them with alcohol or drugs, build their dependencies for basic needs or chemical escapes, place other women in supervisory roles over them and encourage them to compete for affection and favor, use an interlocking system of reward and punishment reminiscent of a battering relationship, and threaten their recruits with the shame of their families and a punitive, rather than protective, law enforcement response.
In this context, it is little wonder why anti-trafficking efforts may be received skeptically by a woman who has been told – and maybe even shown – that law enforcement would not protect her and that the only people who care about her are her pimp and his entourage.
It is the government’s responsibility to protect those caught in compelled service, to take the time and build the expertise to identify victims, even when victims can’t or won’t identify themselves. Governments should identify victims whether they are enslaved in a legal or an illegal activity. Governments should be judged not on their response to the most “deserving” of victims, but on their perseverance with the most challenging.
Other Tell-Tale Signs of a Trafficking Victim
- Living conditions might include plywood on windows, multiple mattresses on floor, lots of fast-food containers, teddy bears, jars of marbles or cards (how the victims have to keep track of men they service).
- Confined to home with restrictions.
- Physical trauma (many times indicated on back of legs or back, lashings with a wire hanger, or restraint bruises around wrists and ankles).
- Bottles of rubbing alcohol.
- Victim does not have documentation or someone is holding it for her.
- Victim has severe dependency on trafficker (he/she speaks for victim).
- Victim keeps head down and eyes averted.
- Drug dependence. (Traffickers control and sedate victims by forcing large doses of various drugs into their systems-this also has the effect of memory loss (victims often do not know or remember what is happening or what has happened) and fools Law Enforcement into believing that the victims are merely self made drug addicts, who unfortunately do not get police sympathy.)