The safety and well-being of the victim is the primary concern of the victim service provider. Service providers convey pertinent information to victims so that they can make informed choices about services they wish to obtain, working with law enforcement, legal and immigration remedies, and other options. Victim-centered approaches focus on empowerment and choice rather than coercion and dependency. Victim service providers can inform victims of human trafficking that law enforcement in this country is designed to identify and apprehend criminals, and that their established relationship of trust can help victims get to a place where they can work with law enforcement and make strong victim witnesses if they choose to do so.
Victim service providers may first come into contact with a victim of trafficking through a variety of different means, which may include the relationships they have built with the community or through law enforcement. In some instances, particularly through referrals from law enforcement, this may mean the victim has just been removed from the situation of exploitation, and in the immediate aftermath of the rescue, there are important steps to take in meeting basic needs—conducting a preliminary intake/needs assessment, providing emergency victim assistance support, and building rapport—and that should be considered before building a long-term intake and needs assessment plan.
Conducting an Intake With a Potential Victim of Human Trafficking
It is critically important to set an appropriate tone during the first meeting with a potential victim. The following are some steps to consider in planning and initiating an intake with a victim of human trafficking:
Task Force Practice Example: Show Victims They Are Not Alone
One service provider noted that many victims are unaware of the prevalence of human trafficking as a crime, leading to a deeper sense of isolation and shame. Upon arrival, and during the explanation of services, each victim was shown a map of the world displayed in the office and asked to place a small sticker on their country or city of birth. The multitude of stickers serves as a powerful visual that the client is not alone in their suffering, and gives the service provider an opportunity to offer hope by sharing some general information about healing and success stories.
Before meeting with a victim of human trafficking, complete as much of the intake form as possible with the victim’s basic information. Consider including information received from other sources (such as the referring law enforcement agency or other community-based partner). While you will likely revisit that information as you build your relationship with your client, it can be helpful to consider this information in planning and prioritizing your intake and needs assessment process.
Begin with a warm welcome. For example, it can be helpful to meet new referrals outside of the building or in the lobby to avoid confusion about where they are going and to send the message that the meeting is important.
Provide a brief tour of the building, so as to familiarize victims with a new environment. Note what services are offered on site and offer coffee, tea, or water (if possible).
Inform victims of approximately how long the meeting will last, but remind them that they are in control and can end the meeting at any time or take a break whenever necessary. Review the purpose of the meeting, which should be to outline available services.
Be sure to have all documents outlining available services, confidentiality, and victims’ rights on hand; have them printed in the victim’s preferred language.
Review the concept of confidentiality and the specific agency policy, outlining the commitment to not share any information with any outsider (including law enforcement or other providers associated with the case) without specific, written permission. See Section 3.2 on Information Sharing and Confidentiality.
Make connections to a support group, if available. To remedy feelings of isolation and loneliness, joining a survivor network may help. A group like the National Survivor Network can be helpful, but also identify local groups that can connect with other survivors and mentors when appropriate (and if/when a survivor chooses). Note that it is important to use a group that meets their distinct needs. For example, a local domestic violence or sexual assault group may not be appropriate for a survivor of trafficking.
Make sure to emphasize your role as a mandated reporter (if applicable).
Smart Tip: Coordination to Improve Victim Safety
Consider ways that victim service providers and law enforcement agencies can partner around victim safety. While respecting the victim’s right to make choices about his/her life, working together, task force members can help ensure that victims make informed decisions. For example, a victim service provider that is concerned about the safety of a victim might be able to ask their law enforcement partner to have a check-in meeting with the victim, without compromising confidentiality. The provider can encourage the victim to share the concerning information directly with law enforcement.
Discuss the services program, including the survivor’s rights and responsibilities under the program and, specifically, the right to not engage in services. Speak with the survivor about which services appear to be relevant to their current situation.
Create a safety plan. While examples are provided, it is imperative for staff to receive training on the process of thorough safety planning with victims. Note, is not uncommon for victims to express the desire to return to their trafficker, or to actually do so. Discussing a safety plan is even more important in this situation.
Review common responses to trauma so as to normalize reactions, such as sleeping too much or too little, forgetfulness, and hyper-vigilance, and review possible interventions if these responses occur.
Conducting a Needs Assessment
It is rare to conduct a thorough assessment during the initial meeting with a survivor. Rather, a thorough assessment of needs takes place over several meetings, allowing the victim to identify and prioritize her/his needs.
Emergency needs should be attended to first, ensuring physical safety until the next meeting with the service provider. A thorough needs assessment involves information gathering on the current status and emergency, and short-term and long-term needs for—
Culturally appropriate food
Seasonally appropriate clothing and shoes
Immigration, criminal, and/or civil legal support
Court accompaniment and advocacy
Medical care, including prescriptions, dental care, and vision care
Substance abuse treatment
Mental health services
Crime victim compensation
Links to culturally specific or faith communities
English as a Second Language (ESL), GED, or other educational programs
Employment training or assistance
Victim's children or other derivative family members