Key Court-Based Task Force Participants
Some court representatives and partners can be an essential part of task force operations. With the often complex intersection of criminal and civil dynamics of trafficking cases, court representatives may be an important voice when task forces provide a coordinated response to trafficking cases. These representatives may encounter victims as witnesses or as defendants.
Prosecutors work with trafficking victims and law enforcement on criminal cases to build a strong case against traffickers. Furthermore, prosecutors are the gatekeeper to diversion. If a victim-defendant is identified, they have the discretion to defer or decline prosecution and instead link the victim-defendant to crucial services. The role of the prosecutor is critical and might involve the following functions:
- Support victims. Prosecutors can ensure that victim-witnesses receive support during the entire trial process, including preparation for testimony, safety needs, and emotional support.
- Divert victim-defendants. Prosecutors can identify human trafficking victims in other cases (once individual cases are identified), by case type, paper screening, or individual interviews. Prosecutors have the discretion to drop charges or recommend diversion options to avoid the possibility of jail, criminal conviction, or both. As a condition of diversion, victim-defendants are supposed to be linked to a comprehensive array of services, including housing, drug treatment, trauma counseling, civil legal services, and medical services. Brokering partnerships with high-quality community-based providers ensures that service provisions are available for diverted trafficking victims and that the court can effectively monitor such services.
- Prosecute traffickers. In most cases, building a strong case means relying on victim testimony, which can be challenging because of victims' inherent fear and mistrust of institutions. Prosecutors should work to develop strong collaborative relationships with task force members and other court stakeholders to facilitate the process if victims choose to come forward. For more information, see Chapter 5 Building Strong Cases.
Within a task force, prosecutors can collaborate with organizations that may identify victims who do not come through law enforcement, potentially coordinating case-related needs. A prosecutor's perspective may be essential in ensuring that task force policies and protocols help build strong cases rather than producing potentially negative impacts.
Example: The County of Los Angeles Probation Department has a Child Trafficking Unit that works collaboratively with social service agencies to develop intervention and prevention strategies for youth who are at risk of sexual exploitation.
Probation officers may interact with victims at multiple points of the court process:
- Identification. Probation officers may be the first to identify victims of trafficking who interact with the court system as defendants. This possibility is particularly salient in juvenile probation cases, where victims may come into the court system for charges of prostitution.
- Intervention. As part of court interventions, probation officers may monitor victims to ensure that they are able to access and attend treatment.
- Prevention. Probation departments can work with victim service providers to assist vulnerable populations that are at risk of being trafficked.
Victim Service Providers
Example: Chicago Prostitution and Trafficking Intervention Court [PDF 142KB]
In Cook County, IL, home to Chicago, the State's Attorney's Office created a specialized deferred prosecution program that diverts victim-defendants away from traditional prosecution and incarceration and toward treatment and services. This new response to prostitution-related cases, the Chicago Prostitution and Trafficking Intervention Court, offers graduated levels of trauma-informed services provided by the local Christian Community Health Program. A single judge in the Domestic Violence Court monitors all cases, and all charges are dismissed upon successful completion of the court mandated program.
In some states, victim service providers are considered court personnel because they are co-located within the district attorney's office. Although this is not the case for all areas, victim service providers may be key partners that have integrated roles within the court system, such as:
- Court advocacy. Service providers may accompany victims to court, provide emotional and moral support during the trial process, and help victims after the verdict. This role is important, whether the survivor is going through the court process as a victim-witness or as a victim-defendant.
- Court-mandated treatments. Service providers may supply services, such as treatment and counseling, as required by the courts.
- Victim advocacy. Service providers can assist with victim rights advocacy, victim impact statements, notification provisions, and other key needs.
Victim service providers are noted in previous chapters as essential participants in task forces. However, it is important to recognize that their role within the court system enables them to integrate a victim advocacy perspective throughout the criminal justice process as well as the social services process.
For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 6.1 Court Stakeholders.