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Law Enforcement Must Know How to Identify Victims of Human Trafficking

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This week, the U.S. State Department released the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report. Findings from this report estimate that 27 million people worldwide are victims of slavery, which includes sex trafficking, indentured servitude, bonded labor or forced military service.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the findings:

“This report gives a clear and honest assessment of where all of us stand,” said Clinton, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report. “It takes a hard look at every government in our world including our own…It is important that we hold ourselves to the same standard as everyone else.”

While the U.S. is one of the most active countries in combating human trafficking, the report found the need for the U.S. to improve local, state and federal data collection techniques in order to monitor human trafficking trends.

In 2011, the Department of Justice and the FBI reached out to train more than 27,000 individuals on how to recognize and fight against trafficking in their communities.

Police Identify Victims
As you might imagine, law enforcement officials play a significant role in identifying potential human trafficking individuals. One of the issues that the report cites is that police often arrest human trafficking victims for crimes such as prostitution and do not correctly identify them as human traffic victims.

It is critical for police officers on the street to know the indicators of trafficking. Recognizing signs like poor personal hygiene, restricted or controlled communication, inconsistent stories, or unusual fearfulness of law enforcement are all potential signs of victimization. You can read a comprehensive list of key indicators here.

Also, it’s important for police to know what questions they should ask people they suspect might be victims of human trafficking. Asking questions like:

  • “Are you free to leave your employment situation?”
  • “Do you have personal documents like identification papers, passports, birth certificates? If not, who does?”
  • “Do you owe money to your employer?”

For a comprehensive list of questions, go here.

Many police agencies are conducting training sessions for their officers on this issue. The Windsor (Canada) Police Department received special training for their officers about how to spot the signs of enslavement and human trafficking.

Build Partnerships
Law enforcement agencies can’t go it alone. The report also highlights the importance of police agencies building partnerships with NGOs to provide aid and assistance to human trafficking victims after they’ve been identified. The report suggests developing task forces and community partnerships in order to facilitate such collaboration. For example, after a law enforcement agency conducts a raid, it is important for NGO partners and other advocates be called on to assist with things like housing, case management and medical care for victims. These law enforcement agencies and advocates can then work together to provide an appropriate safety plan for individuals or groups of victims, stated the report.

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