The Role of Courts

Key Term: Victim-Defendant Paradigm
Victims may come into the court system as defendants when they commit crimes in the context of their trafficking. These unidentified victims may not receive assistance and may suffer additional trauma in the criminal justice system.

Trafficking victims encounter and engage with the court system in a variety of different ways. Some become witnesses against their traffickers in a criminal prosecution. Others enter the system as a defendant for a crime that they committed during their trafficking experience. Each interaction presents an opportunity for the court staff to support victims of human trafficking, play a part in the identification of unidentified survivors, and intervene in a trauma-informed way.

Child Victims and Witnesses Support Materials | OVC
For children and youth, participating in the justice system as a victim or witness can be especially confusing, distressing, and even re-traumatizing. Child Victims and Witnesses Support Materials was created to support children and youth during their involvement with the justice system as a victim or witness to a crime.

Courts have a particular role to play in establishing processes and procedures that ensure victim safety and apply a trauma-informed response to all victims rather than a punitive response that punishes victim-defendants for actions taken not of their own free will. This approach is not only about linking victims to services but also about adopting practices throughout the court system to emphasize attention to safety over fear and punishment.

Human trafficking task forces need to strategize about how to collaborate and partner with the courts in their jurisdictions to enhance their community response to human trafficking and to provide an integrated approach. This section discusses court stakeholders who can play an important role in task forces and may benefit from task force resources and training, ethical considerations related to court stakeholder involvement, and an overview of current innovative court practices.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Chapter 6 The Role of Courts.