Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
September 22, 2005
Rescuing Victims of Modern-Day Slavery PDF version
The Policy of Victim Rescue
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, involving victims who are forced, defrauded, or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. While some victims of this crime are able to escape from involuntary servitude, many more are not able to break free on their own. They need help.
Help usually comes in the form of a raid on the place where victims are held against their will. Victims of involuntary servitude in a labor situation are rescued through raids on sweatshops, or searches of homes exploiting domestic servants, for example. Victims of sex trafficking are rescued through raids on brothels and other places where commercial sexual exploitation occurs, such as massage parlors, Karaoke bars, and strip clubs.
Regardless of the type of rescue, the law enforcement operation--typically termed a "raid"--should be executed through legal means, under the proper authority, using warrants or other necessary court or police orders.
Smart Raids vs. Blind Raids
Law enforcement raids in search of trafficking victims are most effective when they involve good planning and information gathering. While it is unrealistic to get complete information on victims in servitude, learning enough to know, with a high degree of certainty, that trafficking victims are present in the commercial sex and labor sites is important. Victim information is usually obtained through law enforcement people working undercover or through strategically-recruited informants. Carefully planned to ensure the safety of all involved and with post-rescue care arranged for trafficking victims, these smart raids can free trafficking victims while minimizing harm to others.
Some law enforcement raids are blind: They are executed against a target without prior attempts to verify the existence of victims of trafficking in those locations. Blind raids can lead to poor results while inconveniencing or harming people not involved in trafficking. Law enforcement agents often become disheartened after such unsuccessful raids, especially if they assumed enslaved people would be found, enthusiastically awaiting liberation. Bad experiences with blind raids can lead to less effort against sites where labor or sex trafficking is ongoing-or lead to cynicism regarding the human trafficking phenomenon.
Identifying Victims of Trafficking
The violence (physical and psychological) and intimidation that marks involuntary servitude means that victims are often reluctant to identify themselves as victims. This is true around the world and occurs for various reasons. First, victims are usually taught to fear law enforcement authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). If victims are underage, they are typically coerced by traffickers and brothel keepers to claim they are adults consensually involved in prostitution. Adult trafficking victims may be coerced to hide indicators of trafficking-such as confinement, debt bondage, or threats of violence against them and their families. Labor managers and brothel keepers often threaten victims or their relatives with future harm if their situation is revealed.
Suspected victims must be removed from the site of exploitation, away from the threatening environment, and taken to a safe place. The state needs to have temporary custody of these suspected victims, as victims or witnesses of serious crimes. In such an environment-usually in the form of a shelter-victims of human trafficking are more likely to reveal their true situations. The true ages of victims can be learned through self-reporting or medical examinations. Police and social counselors need time to interview and counsel suspected victims. This counseling period, ranging from a few days to two weeks, should become a standard practice in countries with significant trafficking problems. Once a personís status as a victim of trafficking has been determined, long-term care should be available to facilitate rehabilitation.
Children Used for Commercial Sex
U.S. Government policy on children (under the age of 18) used for commercial sex is unambiguous: They must be removed from exploitation as soon as they are found. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under both U.S. and international law. There can be no exceptions, no cultural or socio-economic rationalizations that prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude.
NGOs often help law enforcement officers carry out raids and rescues. They can offer psycho-social counseling skills that help identify trafficking victims, usually after they are removed from trafficking situations.
NGOs and media representatives can also play a valuable role in holding law enforcement authorities to legal standards of crime prevention and victim care by bearing witness to, and demanding, accountability. NGOs, however, should not play a lead role in a raid or rescue, as they lack authority to perform law enforcement actions. NGOs and the media should avoid any practices that harm the rights of children or others.
Rights of Trafficking Victims
The U.S. Constitution (13th Amendment) gives all people the right to be free from slavery or involuntary servitude in the United States. We seek to ensure this basic standard in our efforts to combat trafficking in persons internationally. In approaching the prospective rescue of trafficking victims through law enforcement operations ("raids"), the rights of victims are paramount. Efforts should be made to minimize the number of non-trafficking victims affected by raids and rescues, but this must not preclude efforts to free every victim, who, by definition, is in clear and present danger of physical harm. There should be no safety zone in which traffickers can abuse their victims without fear of law enforcement action.
For more information, please log on to the website of the State Departmentís Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at www.state.gov/g/tip.