Victim Services: the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the U.S.

By Sharon E. Chin

Working_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_ConceptIn January 2014, the Obama Administration released a Federal Strategic Action Plan in response to the President’s address of human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2012. While there has been a large effort legally to protect victims and prosecute traffickers via the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), there has been a disproportionately smaller focus on victim aftercare services. More specifically, safe houses for survivors of human trafficking across the country are not equipped to meet the needs of a growing population as more victims are being identified; waiting lists to obtain a bed have multiplied and do not appear to be shrinking any time soon. With victims of sexual exploitation typically suffering from a multitude of health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance misuse, and other physical ailments, long waiting times for space in a safe home may exacerbate these issues.

Complete recovery and restoration physically, mentally and emotionally are dependent on a network of legal, social and health care services that are provided by aftercare programs. In 2012, less than 40 non-profit facilities were available to provide victim services for ALL trafficked victims in the U.S. and Canada with a total capacity of roughly 350 beds. Comparatively, Polaris estimates receiving reports of more than 9,000 cases of human trafficking within 2008 – 2012. Therefore, with the increasing number of victims being identified and already limited resources available to survivors, the Action Plan is an essential step towards providing total, effective care for survivors.

The Action Plan was first developed by survivors, law enforcement, non-profits, academia, and victim service experts, and released for public comment in 2013. After the comments were reviewed, the Action Plan was updated to include suggested revisions. The current phase of the Action Plan is expected to span a 5-year period where current victim services will be evaluated for best practices to reach, identify, and provide for victims.

The Victim Services Action Plan’s 4 Major Goals:

1. Align Efforts:

Identify the direction and approach towards victim services which will be used between inter-governmental levels. Increase coordination between government levels.

2. Improve Understanding:

Further research and data will be collected and evaluated to develop evidence-based practices for victim services. Establish baseline knowledge of human trafficking and identify victim needs, along with gaps in care. Create a standard for data collection including victim identification training.

3. Expand Access to Services:

Increase awareness about human trafficking in the general public along with specific groups/communities that may be at risk or interact with victims. Training for providers to better identify victims as well as increase their access to services.

4. Improve Outcomes:

Develop networks that are culturally appropriate and trauma-informed to increase victim identification as well as re-integration to physical, mental and financial stability. Encourage multi-group collaborations.

For the health care community, this report is a welcome direction for addressing domestic human trafficking; the value of evidence-based research cannot be stressed enough to identify the effectiveness of current victim services. Furthermore, past policy has been developed by policy makers, not victims. Many times, the processes victims enter to seek justice can re-traumatize them, impacting both victim and professionals aiding them. A victim and trauma-centric policy will be more effective in creating better programs. Lastly, because of the complexity of the issue, to successfully identify, extract, and rehabilitate a victim of human trafficking requires multiple levels of collaborative work. Overall, it is exciting to see what anti-trafficking research and programs will come as a result of increased support from the federal government.

Sources:

Polaris: Human Trafficking Trends in the United States. http://www.polarisproject.org/resources/hotline-statistics/human-trafficking-trends-in-the-united-states

Obama Administration Anti-Trafficking Announcement (2012) http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/09/25/fact-sheet-obama-administration-announces-efforts-combat-human-trafficki

Federal Human Trafficking Strategic Plan 2014: http://www.ovc.gov/pubs/FederalHumanTraffickingStrategicPlan.pdf

Streetlight Tucson. (2012) “US & Canada Residential Facilities for Victims/Survivors of Sex Trafficking”. http://traffickinginpersonssymposium.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/list-of-us-homes-for-trafficking-victims-may-2012-31.pdf

The Child Recovery and Reintegration Network “Aftercare Services US: Rebecca J. Macy” http://www.childrecovery.info/Aftercare-services-US-Rebecca-J-Macy.156.0.html

 

Sharon E. Chin is an MPH candidate at Rutgers University and is Social Media Editor for Cancer InCytes magazine. Her interests are exploring social justice issues through public health lenses.

Image by LuMaxArt from Wikimedia Commons.

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