Skip navigation

Court Personnel with Limited Task Force Roles

The court stakeholders discussed on this page may be more likely to participate in non-case-related tasks such as training, victim response, and leadership. Because of ethical and procedural considerations, these stakeholders may participate in a limited capacity within task forces. It may be more important for them to participate in specific subcommittees, such as those for outreach and public awareness and for training, and to avoid case-specific and legislative task force activities.

Judge: Convene and Lead
In the courtroom, the judge (or other judicial officer) is expected to lead the proceedings and ensure procedural equality. During the hearing, the judicial officer will ensure that all sides are afforded the same rights and subjected to the same evidentiary limitations throughout the court proceedings. In addition, judges can play significant leadership roles in legal education, community outreach, and public service activities. Judges preside over cases involving human trafficking victims in criminal prosecutions, juvenile court, family administrative hearings, and civil court proceedings. Judicial leadership can have a strong impact on case outcomes, particularly in cases involving human trafficking. The role of the judge goes beyond bench activities and might include tasks such as the following:

Example: District of Columbia Multidisciplinary Protocol for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children
In Washington, DC, the presiding judge of the Family Court convened and led the commercial sexual exploitation of children committee to address court-involved youth at risk of sex trafficking. This collaborative group—composed of the court, probation officers, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, child welfare officers, and service providers—developed the District of Columbia Multidisciplinary Protocol for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children that outlines the specific roles each member agency plays in identifying, screening, and monitoring cases involving trafficked youth. Click here for more information about DC Protocols.

  • Identify victim-defendants. The judge can be a final opportunity for victim-defendants to be identified as trafficking victims and thus receive appropriate consideration and assistance.
  • Create a trauma-informed courtroom. A key component of an effective court response to human trafficking is creating a trauma-informed courtroom, led by the judge and implemented through all aspects of court operations.
  • Convene stakeholders. The judge can be a catalyst and a convener, providing leadership and encouraging other court stakeholder to participate. Judges may establish court-specific task forces or working groups, creating an opportunity to clarify and understand everyone’s roles in the enhanced response to human trafficking; construct a trauma-informed courtroom; identify and assist victims; and coordinate activities with the jurisdiction’s larger task forces.

Defense Attorneys: Identify and Advocate
Defense attorneys and public defenders work with victims of human trafficking who have been accused of crimes. Because these attorneys may be the first court personnel to intercept victim-defendants, they play a vital role in identifying signs of trafficking and advocating on their behalf in court. Specifically, the role of the defense attorney might include the following functions:

  • Identify victim-defendants. During initial client interviews, it is important to observe any verbal or behavioral indicators of trauma, past victimization, and trafficking. Consider adding a brief screening tool or informal questions to the standard interview to explore possible elements of force, fraud, and coercion. Sample questions might include: How did you become involved in this work/world? Who introduced you to this type of work? How old were you when you started doing this type of work? Have you ever worked for anyone and, if so, what was that like? Most important, use this encounter to engage the victim, offer support, and build trust.

    Example: Exploitation Intervention Project

    In New York City, the Legal Aid Society created the Exploitation Intervention Project within the Midtown Community Court to assist trafficking victims. This defender-based project provides direct representation, comprehensive services, and legal advocacy support.

  • Advocate. If there is reason to believe that an individual is being trafficked or is at risk of being trafficked, defense attorneys can advocate on their client’s behalf for a noncriminal disposition. Established collaborative relationships with prosecutors are key to diverting victims from the criminal justice system. Defense attorneys can work with the local prosecutor if the victim-defendant chooses to file charges against the exploiters.
  • Victim-centered referrals. Defense attorneys can help ensure access to wrap-around services (such as civil legal services, social services, and medical services) to meet the needs of their clients. If the law permits, defense attorneys also can work to vacate or expunge  previous criminal convictions that are a result of being trafficked.

For additional information, visit Resources Chapter 6.