Monday, May 2, 2011


(This is an excerpt from this Administrator’s Corner newsletter produced by the ALSO STAAR Project with funding from the Office on Violence Against Women, US Dept of Justice)

Special Topics on Sexual Violence and Human Trafficking:

Meeting the Challenge with STOP Funding[1]

Robin H. Thompson, JD, MA

Human trafficking is an area where STOP funds can assist law enforcement, prosecution, the courts and victim services with their responsibilities under the Violence Against Women Act. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are tools used by traffickers to control victims. This article will feature a series of “True or False” questions regarding human trafficking and sexual violence to further describe and outline how victims of human trafficking are routinely subjected to sexual violence. It will also offer policy and program responses as to how the STOP Grant Program can assist these survivors and hold traffickers accountable under the law.

True or False: “Sex trafficking” is the only type of trafficking where rape crisis centers need to focus the efforts to assist survivors.

False. Women who are trafficked in labor situations (e.g., in industries like agriculture or manufacturing, in private homes as nannies and housekeepers, or in the service industry as maids and restaurant workers) are regularly and routinely sexually assaulted by traffickers and others. Women who are victims of sex trafficking, labor trafficking or both very much need and depend on the expertise of rape crisis programs for help and advocacy. Both U.S. citizen and non-citizen adults and children can be victims of both sex and labor trafficking and, again, all need the assistance of rape crisis programs.

In his introductory letter to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report (2010 TIP Report), Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, noted the drastic increases in women who are trafficked for labor calling it “the feminization of labor trafficking,” and says that:

…like their brothers, husbands, and sons, women are trapped in fields, factories, mines, and restaurants, often suffering the dual demons of forced labor and sexual assault. As we more fully understand the plight of women who are victims of labor trafficking, we continue to see the devastating effects of sex trafficking, where services for survivors are as rare as programs that address the demand for their victimization.[2]

Policy and Program Responses:

  1. Victim services programs, including counselors and clinicians, therapists and advocates, must be trained to be able to recognize and respond to human trafficking. Centers report that the victimization and trauma suffered by someone who is forced by a trafficker into prostitution is very different from that suffered by another who is date raped and still another who is raped by a stranger. All of these violations are severe and horrific and staff should be trained and familiar with how to counsel and advocate for these victims.[3] An association with a local anti-trafficking task force or coalition will undoubtedly bring local service providers in contact with local training events. It is also a good idea to ask the state coalition to provide a training specific to human trafficking for all programs in their state.[4] Rape crisis staff is not alone: far and away the greatest need facing all victim services agencies, law enforcement, prosecution and the courts is education about human trafficking. While some states and communities have organized human trafficking task forces or coalitions, there are still vast numbers of members of those same communities who do not yet have these associations or understand human trafficking. If those who are encountering victims of trafficking do not know how to ask about trafficking, they cannot be providing them with the comprehensive and specific services they need. Moreover, the crimes of human trafficking are going unnoticed and unprosecuted.

  1. Sexual violence programs should post and share information about local, statewide and national programs available to assist victims of trafficking. These include the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-3737-888) and the Department of Justice trafficking in persons line (888-428-7581).[5] FREE multi-lingual posters, brochures and fact sheets, presentations, screening tools and other valuable awareness information are available at

  1. Rape crisis programs should join with local anti-trafficking coalition or task force members if there is one in their area. Like current efforts with Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART), at the core of effective service delivery for human trafficking victims at the community level is coordination. No one agency, organization or person can do what is necessary to help a survivor with her needs nor can one law enforcement agency effectively investigate and prosecute traffickers without the assistance and participation of the survivor witness.

  1. Sexual violence advocacy programs should also help to raise awareness about the high number of labor situations that do not involve the sex industry and where victims are sexually assaulted. At the same time, they can bring awareness to local task forces and coalitions as well as to the community at large concerning the numbers of women who are forced into prostitution and into committing other commercial sex acts such as stripping or pornography.

  1. Sexual assault and rape crisis programs should consider how to incorporate information, including training and awareness building activities into their current work. One expert suggests informing all members of the local SART about human trafficking, and building a training program into its local member and community training and awareness activities.

  1. State sexual assault coalitions and national advocacy programs should develop protocols to help local programs and responders to assist sex and labor trafficking survivors. State coalitions and local programs should also work on how to incorporate human trafficking into their prevention programs and develop a “Best Practices for Prevention Educators on Human Trafficking.” This would be valuable information to include in a range of prevention efforts from those directed toward at-risk youth to women in prison.

True or False: All persons who commit acts of prostitution[6] are victims of sex trafficking.

False. Federal law, on which many state laws or based, specifies that in order to be a victim of a sex trafficking, the person must be induced by force, fraud or coercion to perform a commercial sex act or if a minor under 18, be induced to perform such an act.[7]

Here, the distinction between children and adults is important. If a child is “induced” to perform a commercial sex act, then that child is a victim of sex trafficking. Thus, a 17 year old whose 21 year old boyfriend says “you will do this if you love me” and if by that he means for her to have sex with other men for money, she is a victim of trafficking and he is a trafficker. She should not be arrested but rather should be treated like a victim and given the help and services she needs.

On the other hand, if a child or an adult is committing acts of prostitution without being “induced” by anyone to do so (if a child) or without being subject to force, fraud or coercion (if an adult), that person would not be deemed a victim of trafficking under the law. Arguably, they are acting under their own volition. Sometimes this is referred to as “survival sex.”[8]

The 2010 TIP Report, speaks further to this when it describes adult sex trafficking:

When an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution – or maintained in prostitution through coercion – that person is a victim of trafficking. All of those involved in recruiting, transporting, harboring, receiving, or obtaining the person for that purpose have committed a trafficking crime. Sex trafficking can also occur within debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale” – which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free.[9]

Policy and Program Responses:

1. Law enforcement, prosecutors and victim services programs should carefully examine how their state laws and the federal law define human trafficking and prostitution and treat any child under the age of 18 as a victim of trafficking, per federal law. They should not conflate human trafficking and prostitution as there are important legal and practical differences. All sectors should take a victim-centered approach and work with victims of trafficking in their programs in ways that reflect that person’s history and experiences and needs.

2. Any organization or agency that comes in contact with any victim of trafficking should be aware of the programs and laws that are emerging to assist domestic minor victims of sex trafficking (DMST).[10] This training includes school counselors and school resource officers who may be able to prevent a child becoming prey to a trafficker and effectively intervene if they see the signs.

True or False: Compared to resources and program funding for sexual violence and domestic violence services and justice system expertise there are relatively few resources directed to assist victims of trafficking and investigate and prosecute traffickers.

True. Relative to domestic violence and sexual violence, there are only a few programs in existence that assist victims of trafficking and compared to domestic violence and sexual violence, only a small number of justice system responders nationwide are trained on human trafficking and thus are able to recognize it and support victims.

In terms of specialized human trafficking programs, there are some agencies and advocacy groups that work with only U.S. citizen minors or other children, others that may assist mainly or exclusively international victims. Some may focus on sex trafficking and others primarily on labor trafficking. These same areas of specialization are often reflected in law enforcement and prosecution agencies. For instance, many law enforcement agencies house their “human trafficking units” within their vice units or they may focus only on crimes against children (they would more accurately be called “child sex trafficking units”). This makes it a foregone conclusion that the focus of the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases will be on child sex trafficking.

Policy and Program Responses:

1. Greater resources must be directed to assist victims of trafficking, both within agencies that can be dedicated solely to helping these survivors and within agencies such as existing sexual violence, domestic violence, homeless, runaway, and youth and other programs. Victims of trafficking are in dire need of housing and a wide range of other kinds of basic assistance. Professionals who assist them need more extensive and in-depth training and access to resources from others in the community such as with mental and physical health care, legal representation and basic living needs.

2. Law enforcement and prosecution units should consider whether their current responses to sex and labor trafficking might be lopsided or limited when deployed. If the focus is on sex trafficking, these professionals should also be trained and organized to pursue labor trafficking crimes that are committed in their areas, particularly as most women who are labor trafficked are also victims of sexual violence.


Prosecutors, law enforcement, judges, rape crisis center staff, counselors, advocates, clinicians, and all others who assist, represent, advocate for victims of sexual violence must understand that they will see women who are victims of human trafficking. These can be survivors of sex trafficking or labor trafficking and even in labor cases they will very likely have faced rape and other forms of sexual abuse at the hands of human traffickers. This makes it all the more important for STOP administrators and state Implementation Plans to consider how to train and equip their core STOP grant recipients with the knowledge and resources to be able to investigate human trafficking crimes, prosecute traffickers, and assist sexual assault survivors of both forms of trafficking with their unique needs.

[1] This article appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Administrators’ Corner, the newsletter for STOP Grant administrators, which is produced by the STAAR Project of the Alliance of Local Service Organizations.

[2] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 (2010 TIP Report) found at

[3] For instance see for information on training and assistance.

[4] E.g., The North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (NCCASA) employs an anti-trafficking coordinator, and has featured statewide sex trafficking workshops and publications; see and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV) provided a statewide training conference in February 2010.

[5] For the Department of Health and Human Services information see For the National Human Trafficking Hotline see For the Department of Justice see

[6] As prostitution is defined in law.

[7] See the Victims of Trafficking Violence Prevention Act of 2000,

(8) SEVERE FORMS OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS.—The term ‘‘severe forms of trafficking in persons’’ means—

(A) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or

(B) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

(9) SEX TRAFFICKING.—The term ‘‘sex trafficking’’ means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.

[8] Many argue that the larger conditions of society that devalue, objectify and oppress women and children, as well as others who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are coercive in that there are insufficient alternatives to economic survival for many beyond selling their bodies for sex. This view of “coercion” does not meet requirements under federal law.

[9] TIP Report found at The 2010 TIP report goes further in the “Topics of Special Interest” section to say: “Prostitution by willing adults is not human trafficking regardless of whether it is legalized, decriminalized, or criminalized. However, pursuant to the TVPRA of 2008, the definitions of human trafficking under U.S. law are not construed to treat prostitution as a valid form of employment.”

[10] See The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: America’s Prostituted Children on the website of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center at

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