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Serving Trafficking Victims

Identifying Sex Trafficking Victims

Trafficked persons may not speak English, may not fully understand the culture or legal system of the United States, and usually lack information about organizations that can assist them. Given the violence, coercion, and schemes used to lure victims, SARTs must make a commitment to search out victims. For example, traffickers frequently tell victims that they will receive cruel and harsh treatment if they go to law enforcement or immigration officials. Additionally, family loyalty, cultural practices, or political oppression in their home countries can prevent victims from seeking relief. To date, several cases of trafficking have been uncovered after victims escaped and came to the police, but most victims will not be able to escape or seek assistance.65

Several general indicators can help you identify trafficking victims. Do the victims you are serving—

  • Refuse to speak on their own behalf?
  • Lack knowledge of the surrounding community?
  • Say they are unable to change jobs?
  • Lack passports or other forms of identification or documentation or personal items?
  • Show signs of being controlled, physically abused, isolated, or owned (e.g., scars, brands)?

Screening Questions

As the agency responsible for helping trafficking victims receive benefits and services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed the Rescue and Restore Campaign to help identify and assist trafficking victims. When you are trying to identify whether a victim you are serving is a victim of trafficking, consider asking the following screening questions developed by the campaign:

  • Have you or your family been threatened?
  • Is anyone forcing you to do anything that you do not want to do?
  • What type of work do you do? What are your working conditions like? Are you being paid?
  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please? Are there locks on your doors/windows so you cannot get out? Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom? Have you ever been deprived of food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?