Anytime a task force is planning a law enforcement action where potential victims of human trafficking might be encountered, particular planning and thought should be given to ensure the integrity of the trafficking case. When task forces understand that this action may be the first encounter that a potential victim has with the investigative team, they use proactive planning to apply a trauma-informed approach, which is key to the long-term success of the investigation. See Section 4.1, Using a Trauma-Informed Approach, for more information.
Useful Strategies for Law Enforcement
Partner with victim service provider task force members before and during law enforcement operations if potential victims are anticipated. Victim service providers should not be present at the location of the enforcement action, but they should be available immediately afterward to meet with any victims, develop a safety plan, assess each victim’s needs, and begin providing services. This approach requires pre-planning and advance notification. When the task force arranges private space and time for victim service providers to speak with victims and begin providing assistance immediately after an enforcement action (or promptly after a reactive arrest), the task force demonstrates that its members are working together effectively and further secures victims’ rights.
Establish clear boundaries for all task force members involved to protect the integrity of the criminal investigation and to preserve and adhere to the victim service provider’s professional obligations, client consent, and confidentiality rules. These goals can be accomplished with an open discussion or a written memorandum of understanding (MOU). See Section 3.1 for considerations in developing a task force operational protocol.
Ensure that all victim service providers clearly understand the information they need to collect to deliver appropriate services. Social workers and service providers should only ask a victim for information that is essential to deliver the respective services. Victim’s attorneys should work with victims to protect their attorney-client and work-product privilege, as well as other confidential information obtained to assist the client. For additional information on potential issues related to information gathering, see Section 3.2, Information Sharing.
Conduct individual interviews but assess group interactions. After an enforcement action, law enforcement officers should interview each person alone but observe the reactions of both victims and unidentified suspects when they are in a group to carefully sort out the victims, the key traffickers, and the enforcers. All interviews should be conducted privately so that those people who might talk to law enforcement officers can do so without the knowledge of others who may still be aligned with the trafficking offenders. To determine accurately who is a victim, it is critical to understand the dynamics of trafficking; for example, some victims might have bonded with the traffickers or might refuse to reveal the extent of their victimization. See Section 4.1, Using a Trauma-Informed Approach, and Section 5.3, Victim Interview and Preparation.