Charging Ahead: Prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases Without Victim Cooperation

Charging Ahead: Prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases Without Victim Cooperation

Charging Ahead: Prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases Without Victim Cooperation


The testimony of a human trafficking victim can be powerful evidence against a trafficker. There are, however, numerous reasons why victims often hesitate to participate in the case against their trafficker. When even best practices for victim protection are insufficient to overcome a victim’s fear, trauma, or other factors that may deter their cooperation, prosecutors must learn how to successfully prosecute the case without this key evidence and assistance.

Why Some Victims are Unwilling or Unable to Testify or Cooperate

“[The offender] was basically pimping her out but she was completely uncooperative and she had all sorts of issues and didn’t want to come to court and when she took the stand at the testimony, it was just awful. She was clearly trying to protect him . . . .”2 Successful human trafficking prosecutions usually rely heavily on victim testimony and cooperation.3 Notably, however, these cases present unique circumstances with victim cooperation, which necessitates more attention from prosecutors for the welfare and needs of victims.4 Unique issues and factors that influence and prevent victims from testifying or cooperating include victims’ fear of retaliation by the traffickers, wariness of possible implications of complicity in the traffickers’ crimes, inability or unwillingness to identify themselves as victims, and lack of trust in authorities.5 Additionally, many victims do not understand their rights, fear deportation, or lack knowledge and understanding regarding law enforcement’s role in the process.6 It is imperative for law enforcement and prosecutors to recognize and understand the issues and challenges that can impede victim testimony and cooperation.7 It is equally important to recognize that a victimcentered approach sometimes means making the tough decision to proceed without victim testimony or cooperation because that is what is best for the victim and achieving justice in the case.


This Article provides brief, practical guidance and resources to practitioners prosecuting human trafficking cases. More specifically, this Article examines issues contributing to the noncooperation of victims and protections employable to encourage victim participation. Using the victim-centered and prosecution-led approaches, this Article then provides pre-trial and trial strategies for proceeding without victim and survivor cooperation.

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