News & Events

For media inquiries and other press-related questions, please contact the NAAG Press Center at (202) 326-6027 or rstone@naag.org.

Press Room

Human Trafficking: Enforcement and Training

This is the last of four human trafficking articles to appear in the monthly NAAGazette. These articles are the work of attorneys who participated in the June 2011 National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute (NAGTRI) International Fellows Program. Human trafficking is also the focus of NAAG President and Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna’s 2011-2012 presidential initiative.

This group, with representatives from Bosnia, Canada, Israel, the Russian Federation, and the United States, was asked to discuss enforcement and implementation of human trafficking laws and training for prosecutors and law enforcement. Several questions were posed to begin the discussion: Once a human trafficking law is in place, what are the impediments to enforcement? The United States uses a collaborative-partnership model involving the prosecutor, law enforcement, and the non-governmental organization (NGO). Is this a model that can work in every jurisdiction? In civil law countries, would another model work better? Is it a major cultural shift for prosecutors and law enforcement to approach a crime as a victim-centered crime? Will law enforcement be comfortable with the concept that those who have committed crimes while being trafficked will not be charged and will, instead, be treated as a victim? In traditional societies, will it be difficult to treat women who have been trafficked in the sex trade as victims instead of as criminals? In societies where child labor laws are only now coming into full force, will it be difficult to combat labor trafficking involving minors? How can the difficulties of prosecuting government officials who are involved through bribery or other means be overcome? What type of training should prosecutors and law enforcement officials receive regarding investigating and prosecuting human trafficking?

By Dalia Avramoff, Senior Deputy to the Tel Aviv District Attorney, Israel, Sylvia Domaradzki, Abbotsford Crown Counsel, Canada, Alma Dzaferovic, Prosecutor, Bosnia, Nancy Hovis, Deputy Attorney General, Washington Attorney General’s Office, and Denis Markov, Investigative Committee for the Russian Federation, Russia

One of the main impediments to the enforcement of existing human trafficking laws is the lack of understanding and awareness of the crime by first responders. Training is crucial for all government officials who may encounter victims, such as law enforcement, border control, airport officials, consulates where visas are issued, emergency room personnel, social workers, and labor inspectors to recognize the symptoms of trafficking. The training should include a segment that would allow these officials to be aware of a cultural mindset that views victims of these crimes as potential defendants. It is necessary for these first responders to have a good understanding of victim trauma so that they can ensure further victimization does not take place in investigating and prosecuting these crimes. It is necessary, in order to achieve successful prosecutions, to have services available for victims to empower them to be willing witnesses against their traffickers. There may be language issues and other cultural obstacles so having victim services workers that can communicate with the victim in their native tongue is crucial. Finally, there should be a concerted effort by policy makers to prioritize prosecution of traffickers.

The collaborative approach to enforcing human trafficking laws is an appropriate model for all countries to use. However, there needs to be flexibility in the model so that jurisdictions can approach prosecution using their own unique systems. It is also important to engage the business community to examine their own practices and collaborate with law enforcement and prosecutors. Reaching out to embrace as many different members of the community that could assist with identifying victims is essential; established NGOs, the religious community, community organizations, local licensing and utility providers, and the medical community can all play a role in helping to stop human trafficking.

In many countries, it will require a considerable cultural shift for law enforcement and prosecutors to adopt a victim-centered approach. It may be particularly difficult in traditional societies to treat women who have been trafficked as victims instead of as criminals. Even in modern societies, families and victims may feel shame and embarrassment and most certainly will not want to come forth to report that they are victims of trafficking. It becomes an extremely difficult dilemma for victims who feel that they cannot return to their home countries ― or to their families if they have been domestically trafficked ―because of the shame of having been ensnared in the trafficking.

Quite often, if the trafficking crimes are reported or discovered, the suspected traffickers are prosecuted under related laws, such as kidnapping, pandering, rape, and assault, instead of under trafficking laws. This may be because human trafficking laws are new and do not have established precedents. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors are not trained to enforce the newer human trafficking laws and are more comfortable with laws that have established precedents. It is also sometimes quite difficult to convince the victims to testify against their traffickers and, without a victim’s testimony, conviction is exceedingly difficult. Policy makers in various jurisdictions could assist by making prosecution under the trafficking statutes a priority in order to determine the extent of the trafficking problem that exists.

Accurate statistics and data with respect to child victimization in labor trafficking is difficult to obtain as this is an extremely difficult issue, especially in cultures where children are expected to work alongside their family members to support the family. Furthermore, many cultures have a very flexible definition of what constitutes a family and family functionality. It is difficult to ascertain, in some circumstances, as to which individuals are genuine members of the family in question. For instance, in Canada, law enforcement found 40 people living in a house, all claiming that they were member of a “family.” Law enforcement officials need to be able to collaborate with other institutions, including immigration, in order to assist in their investigations. Businesses can also help by ensuring that their supply chain does not include items made through forced labor or by child labor.

All countries face the difficulty of prosecuting officials for public corruption. It is an unfortunate truth that, in some countries, human trafficking is facilitated by corrupt officials. Israel confronted this issue by creating a new unit investigating and prosecuting law enforcement for breaches of the law. Other countries, which follow the federalist model, enable the federal judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute corrupt local officials. Some countries have dedicated special funds to this issue. Political leverage, such as the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, can put pressure on countries, under the threat of economic sanctions, to confront corruption as it impacts trafficking. Providing a living wage for law enforcement helps to stem the bribery that might cause a border patrol or policeman to “look the other way.” The Russian Federation has passed laws that provide harsher penalties for those convicted of corruption and both Russia and Israel have used high-profile prosecutions as a method of deterrence. It is a slow process to change a culture of corruption in a country. Empowering citizens to file complaints and reach the media with those complaints can help bring about the change needed.

Training for Law Enforcement and Prosecutors

In terms of training for law enforcement and prosecutors regarding human trafficking, a component dealing with awareness needs to be addressed at the forefront. If the officials are not aware of signs or indications of trafficking then most of these crimes will not even be investigated. Many still do not realize that this crime exists everywhere, in every part of society. First responders have to be aware as to the indications of trafficking. There should be training on the indicators of both sex and labor trafficking; knowing what questions to ask; interviewing victims and treating them as victims, not defendants; understanding the trauma victim’s experience and giving them time to begin to feel safe. Victims need an array of services, including housing, food, therapy, and training in occupational skills. Although this is not a law enforcement responsibility, there needs to be partnerships with service providers who can assist victims. Unless the victims are empowered to become survivors, prosecutors will not have witnesses to testify in subsequent trials. Israel has elite and specialized police units trained in trafficking, as has the United States through their Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Law enforcement also needs training on how to handle victims whose culture and language do not mirror their own. The victim-centered approach needs to be emphasized in all training modules for first responders and others in human trafficking. Furthermore, there should be training to teach prosecutors and law enforcement how to reach across national borders to obtain cooperation from their peers in other countries. Training should also be provided in related crimes, such as money laundering and RICO-type crimes as well as in restitution and asset forfeiture. It is only with cooperation and collaboration that an issue of this great international magnitude can be identified, addressed, and eliminated.

red logo

put the title of the article here
DALIA AVRAMOFF
put the title of the article here
SYLVIA DOMARADZKI

ALMA DZAFEROVIC

NANCY HOVIS

DENIS MARKOV