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Victim-Centered Approach

Key Term: The Victim-Centered Approach

This approach is defined as the systematic focus on the needs and concerns of a victim to ensure the compassionate and sensitive delivery of services in a nonjudgmental manner.

A victim-centered approach seeks to minimize retraumatization associated with the criminal justice process by providing the support of victim advocates and service providers, empowering survivors as engaged participants in the process, and providing survivors an opportunity to play a role in seeing their traffickers brought to justice.

Too often, victims are required to wait for long periods of time for critically needed services. Service providers assist large numbers of clients with limited resources to address all their needs. Time pressures on overburdened police departments often place the priorities of other cases ahead of the trafficking case/victim. Heavy caseloads in prosecutor's offices can often take the focus off the victim's need for sensitive treatment and helping the victim understand what occurs during the prosecution of a case. When law enforcement, prosecution, service providers, or other professionals are involved in a case, the needs of victims must remain central in the process.

In a victim-centered approach, the victim's wishes, safety, and well-being take priority in all matters and procedures.

Smart Practice: All professionals involved in human trafficking cases must advocate for the victim. Avoid activities that can ostracize a victim, those that mirror the behavior of a trafficker, however unintentionally, by limiting or not offering a victim choices in the recovery process. It will require patience, empathy, and compassion from you, as well as from your partners involved in the effort.

Victim service providers bring a diversity of specialized service skills, social resources, cultural competence, and ideally, a trauma-informed perspective. They are able to assess survivor needs and provide critical support to survivors. These skills are imperative to building rapport and trust with survivors, meeting their needs, and assisting the survivor in creating safety and security in their lives. Victim service providers often have partnerships and collaborations with communities that are highly vulnerable to human trafficking and those that are unlikely to report crimes to law enforcement.

Service provider and law enforcement partnerships are crucial to the provision of a comprehensive and victim-centered response to human trafficking. A comprehensive effort should include organizations with expertise in reaching targeted populations in culturally sensitive and linguistically correct ways, as well as those with expertise in trauma, emotional bonding, climate of fear, and other circumstances.

Training Resources: OVC TTAC offers Victim Assistance Training (VAT) Online. Module lessons include assessing victims’ needs, collaboration, trauma-informed care, cultural competence, diversity and inclusion, and more that can help you build a more victim-centered response.

The victim-centered approach plays a critical role in supporting victims' rights, dignity, autonomy, and self-determination, regardless of whether they chose to report or cooperate with law enforcement. For victims who do chose to work with law enforcement, employing a victim-centered approach to criminal investigations is fundamental to a successful criminal case.

Use of the Terms Victim and Survivor

This Guide uses the terms “victim” and “survivor” to refer to individuals who were trafficked. Both terms are important and have different implications when used in the context of victim advocacy and service provision. For example, the term “victim” has legal implications within the criminal justice process and refers to an individual who suffered harm as a result of criminal conduct. The laws that give individuals particular rights and legal standing within the criminal justice system use the term “victim.” Federal law enforcement uses the term “victim” in its professional capacity. “Survivor” is a term used widely in service providing organizations to recognize the strength and courage it takes to overcome victimization. In this Guide, both terms are used in the context of victim identification, outreach, and service strategies.

Consider partnering and consulting with survivor leaders in your task force. Visit the National Survivor Network, where members regularly speak on the issue of human trafficking, as well as offer training and technical consultation to a variety of audiences and agencies.

For additional information, visit the Resource page for Chapter 1 Understanding Human Trafficking.