Addressing the Needs of Victims of Human Trafficking: Challenges, Barriers, and Promising Practices

Addressing the Needs of Victims of Human Trafficking: Challenges, Barriers, and Promising Practices

Addressing the Needs of Victims of Human Trafficking: Challenges, Barriers, and Promising Practices


Heather J. Clawson, Ph.D. and Nicole Dutch, B.A I.


This is the fifth in a series of Issue Briefs produced under a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), to conduct a study of HHS programs serving human trafficking victims. Funded in the fall of 2006, the purpose of this exploratory project is to develop information on how HHS programs are currently addressing the needs of victims of human trafficking, including domestic victims, with a priority focus on domestic youth. This project also reviewed relevant literature, and identified barriers and promising practices for addressing the needs of victims of human trafficking, with a goal of informing current and future program design and improving services to this extremely vulnerable population. This issue brief focuses on the needs of victims of human trafficking and the services available to meet those needs. Additionally, it discusses challenges and barriers to providing services to victims, international and domestic, adults and minors, and highlights innovative solutions to these challenges and promising practices to overcome barriers . Throughout the brief we make distinctions, where appropriate, between international adult victims, international minor victims, and domestic minor victims. No information was available regarding domestic adult victims as agencies did not report providing services to this population. There also is no current research or literature providing information on serving this population.


Common Needs

When service providers and law enforcement personnel were asked to describe the needs of victims of human trafficking, a common response was, “what don’t they need.” The table on the next page shows the responses given by those service providers participating in the study. The safety needs of victims were identified as the first priority by all of those working with victims. According to law enforcement and providers, screening for safety needs (for both the victims and providers) is part of every assessment they conduct. Safety needs are often met when the next priority need for (safe) emergency housing is addressed. Other emergency needs include food and clothing and, for international victims, translation services to avoid feelings of isolation and to facilitate communication regarding other needs. Once emergency needs are met, other needs that present themselves in the short- and long-term need to be met. These include housing (transitional and permanent for adults, and foster care or permanent placement for minors), legal assistance (e.g., help in understanding legal rights, legal representation and, for international victims, assistance with filing T-visa applications, and immigration petitions), and advocacy (e.g., assistance retrieving identification documents, completing applications, attending appointments, and navigating the different U.S. systems, including criminal justice, child welfare, immigration, human services, transportation, etc.). Additionally, service providers and law enforcement note that most victims also need health screening (tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy), vaccinations/immunizations, medical treatment for physical injuries, and dental care. Other service needs include child care (for both adults and minors with children), education (GED assistance, enrollment in school, technical training/certification), life skills training (including assisting some international victims with operation of basic household appliances, using public transportation, using a telephone, mailing a letter, etc.), job training, finding employment, financial management, and where appropriate, family reunification or repatriation. In addition to the above service needs, service providers report that all victims of trafficking have some type of mental health need. Specifically, service providers indicated that as a result of the trauma experienced, victims need trauma counseling and for domestic minor victims in particular, they often need anger management, conflict resolution, and family counseling.

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