This year’s theme for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is Victims’ Voices Lead the Way, highlighting the importance of listening to and learning from victims of trafficking in persons. The voices of survivors are critical to anti-trafficking work and we, as practitioners, have much to learn from trafficked persons about what works, what doesn’t, and why. This includes understanding how trafficking victims experience anti-trafficking measures including when these measures, in spite of good intentions, are ineffective and even harmful. The recently published NEXUS Institute and Bali Process Regional Support Office (RSO) Practitioner Guides draw on victim-centered counter-trafficking research, to guide counter-trafficking practitioners.
Learning from victim experiences
For almost twenty years, NEXUS has been conducting research with trafficking victims around the world to learn from their experiences of identification, protection, and reintegration. By sharing this learning with government and civil society partners, the voices and perspectives of trafficked persons are placed at the heart of anti-trafficking interventions.
While anti-trafficking interventions are vital and often life-saving, victims have both positive and negative experiences during identification, protection, and reintegration processes. Trafficking victims describe a range of experiences at the different stages of post-trafficking life that influence their decisions about and responses to the support they receive.
For example, many trafficking victims describe their fear of authorities, leading many to avoid being identified.
Mistrust or negative past experiences of authorities may mean victims refuse assistance.
And during recovery and reintegration, many victims struggle to cope not only with the impacts of their trafficking exploitation but also due to vulnerabilities that existed in their lives before trafficking, which means that their self-articulated needs may not always align with available services.
In the case of trafficked children, the physical, psychological, and social impacts of trafficking necessitate special and additional measures.
By understanding how trafficking victims understand, perceive and experience identification, protection, and reintegration, practitioners can enhance how they do their day-to-day work.
Victim voices to guide practitioners
NEXUS Institute and the Regional Support Office of the Bali Process (RSO) have been working together to develop a Practitioner Guide Series, to support practitioners to learn from experiences of trafficking victims and fellow practitioners. This series distills research and guidance on different aspects of victim protection, so policymakers can improve practice and procedures, and practitioners can enhance their daily work with both adult and child victims of trafficking.
The target audience is all practitioners working with adult and child trafficking victims, including social workers, healthcare practitioners, psychologists and counselors, child protection specialists, law enforcement, lawyers and paralegals, teachers and school administrators, vocational trainers, job counselors and business experts and public administrators.
The guides are user-friendly with notepads and mini-exercises for use in daily work as well as in training and capacity building. And importantly, they offer users the opportunity to listen to and learn from the voices of victims.
Victim identification is the process by which an individual is identified as a trafficking victim, which, in turn, entitles them to rights and protections. While formal identification should lead to and facilitate the opportunity for a victim to be referred for assistance, this does not always occur in practice. Some trafficking victims are not identified and assisted by frontline responders and practitioners. Other victims decline to be identified and assisted. Still other victims may be formally identified but not referred for assistance or may be forced to accept assistance. This practitioner guide reviews existing research on victim identification (and non-identification), touching on why some victims are (and are not) identified, challenges in the identification process and practices that may enhance victim identification.
Victims of trafficking are entitled to, and should receive, immediate protection from their exploiters and from the possibility of further harm, including the risk of re-trafficking. They should receive support to meet their immediate needs and ensure their well-being, irrespective of their willingness to participate in criminal justice procedures, protection from detention and prosecution and the right to privacy. This practitioner guide reviews existing research on the protection and support of trafficking victims in Asia, both in terms of what exists and what challenges arise in the provision of protection and support.
Recovery and reintegration is a complex and costly undertaking, often requiring a full and diverse set of services for victims (and sometimes their families), who themselves have widely differing short- and long-term physical, psychological, social and economic needs. Once the immediate needs of trafficked persons have been met, many victims require further assistance to reintegrate into their families and communities (e.g. vocational training, economic support, long-term access to healthcare, counseling, education, family mediation). Some assistance needs are a consequence of trafficking while others may be linked to vulnerabilities that existed before victims were trafficked as well as issues that have arisen in victims’ lives after trafficking. Because successful reintegration can take years to achieve, reintegration services must be available in the long-term and include follow-up and case management. This practitioner guide reviews and synthesizes existing research on recovery and reintegration of trafficking victims including barriers and challenges in the reintegration process as well as opportunities and entry points for supporting sustainable reintegration.
The ASEAN Trafficking Convention (ACTIP) explicitly recognizes that child victims have special needs and that appropriate measures are needed to ensure the safety and well-being of child victims, from identification to the securing of a durable solution involving longer-term support. Care and protection must be made available on an equal and non-discriminatory basis with no distinction between child nationals and child non-nationals. Special attention should be paid to assessing and meeting the requirements of children with special needs such as the very young, those with disabilities and those who have suffered severe exploitation and abuse. This practitioner guide reviews existing research on the specific needs and experiences of trafficked children as well as measures in place and challenges faced to protect them. Based on this analysis, practitioners will be guided to a deeper understanding of how to more effectively address the critical issues that arise in implementing special and additional measures for trafficked children.