DHS uses a victim-centered approach to combat human trafficking, which places equal value on the identification and stabilization of victims and providing immigration relief, as well as the investigation and prosecution of traffickers.
A victim-centered approach to investigation and prosecution is essential to accomplishing our law enforcement mission. Victims who can tell their story and testify as a witness are key to successful human trafficking investigations and prosecutions. When encountering a potential victim, it is important to remember that victims may not be comfortable coming forward and working with law enforcement. They need help to feel stable, safe and secure. Trafficking victims may:
- Fear law enforcement;
- Not identify themselves as a victim;
- Not tell a complete story, or use rehearsed responses; or
- Identify with the trafficker.
It is crucial to understand that these behaviors are indicative of the level of control traffickers exert over victims, and that victims need support and understanding in order to help make the case investigation—and subsequent prosecution of the perpetrator—a success.
When law enforcement encounter a potential victim of trafficking in the course of their duties, it is critical that they begin to develop rapport and establish trust by:
- Immediately connecting the victim to a victim specialist who can connect them to support services― emphasizing that assistance is available regardless of the outcome of the investigation and prosecution;
- Taking time to explain who they are, answer questions they might have, and acknowledge and address their fears;
- Being sensitive to cultural differences and language barriers and using an interpreter when needed;
- Conducting interviews in a neutral location, only after the victim’s needs have been assessed and any urgent needs have been met; and
- Being patient and giving the victim time to stabilize and begin their recovery process.
The U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS) support direct services for victims of human trafficking through local, community based service providers. HHS also can provide federal public benefits to victims.