*Part Three of a four-part series 

~by Amy Lynn Burch

Originally published on April 22, 2012 @ 10:34pm

~Writer’s note to the reader: The original design of this four-part series was as a training tool for law enforcement officials regarding proper response to the issue of trafficking in humans, specifically; those trafficked for sexual purposes.  Historically, victims of trafficking have been criminalized by both state and federal law creating something of an “us-vs.-them” mentality within the law enforcement community as it respects victims of sexual trafficking crimes, e.g., prostitution.  The law routinely places blame on the victim by labeling victims as “prostitutes” or “crack whores” while ignoring the criminality of those responsible for devastating the lives of the trafficked. Fortunately, the laws have begun to change this dynamic, however; what has not changed as rapidly as the law is the attitudes and perceptions of law enforcement officials regarding the trafficked.  It must be clearly understood that the attitudes and perceptions of law enforcement regarding the trafficked must change to align with the facts of trafficking rather than the mis-perceptions willing participation.

One of the greater strides in combating victim mis-perception was accomplished recently in the state of Alaska with the passage of HB359 which was introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell. On Thursday, April 19, 2012 the Senate passed the bill, sending it immediately to Governor Parnell for signature.  Once signed, the law will make any person guilty of sex trafficking for three actions: forcing anyone to engage in prostitution; inducing a person under 20 years old into prostitution; or inducing someone under their legal custody into prostitution. The crime will be classified as a “serious felony offense.”

The law further changes the status of those trafficked from criminal, i.e., “prostitute” to victim. Those of us who deal with victims and advocate for their care are thrilled with this measure!

As always, thank you for your support. Following is Part-Three: Trafficking and the Law.


Trafficking and the Law

Prior to the year 2000, there were no comprehensive laws to protect the victims of sexual trafficking nor were there laws to prosecute the true offenders; the traffickers. Signed into law in October of 2000, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) made human-trafficking a Federal crime.  The law in essence changed the status of those trafficked from criminal to victim and placed the weight of criminality where it belongs; on the traffickers.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 which was reauthorized in 2003, 2005, and 2008 (with re-authorization of TVPA 2011 still pending as of this writing, even though 2012 is quickly coming to a close) addresses three critical areas of concern for victims: preventionprotection; and prosecution.

The law was designed to protect victims by providing victim assistance services at both the Federal and state level, prosecute those traffickers caught dealing within the United States, and prevent the further trafficking of humans overseas (TVPA).  It is vitally important as law enforcement officials to know the differences between Federal and state laws in respect to human trafficking. The rights afforded victims under TVP include:

*The right to access information, in accordance with Section 107(c)(2) of the TVPA, which provides that victims of “severe forms of trafficking shall have access to information about their rights and translation services.”

*The right to rescue and be removed to the appropriate shelter or special shelters, in accordance with Section 107(c)(1)(A).

*The right to social assistance and economic self-sufficiency, including job counseling, skills training, and education, in accordance with Section 107(e)(4)(i)(2), which provides “the alien with employment authorized endorsement or other appropriate work permit.

*The right to medical care, including physical and psychological treatment, in accordance with Section 107(c)(1)(b)

*The right to be heard in court, including the right to legal representation in cases prosecuted under the TVPA, in accordance with Section 112.

*The right to mandatory restitution under the TVPA, in addition to the right to civil compensation under existing laws, in accordance with Section 112.

*The right to privacy and safety under the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, in accordance with Section 107(c)(1)(B)(i,ii).

*The right to seek residency under the T-visa program, in accordance with Section 107(f).

*The right to return to their country of origin and not be detained in facilities inappropriate to their status as crime victims, in accordance with Section 107(c)(1)(A), and the right to receive services regardless of their immigration status, in accordance with Section 107(b)(1)(B).

Intervention Strategies for Law Enforcement

For all of its good intentions  TVPA is useless without the aid of law enforcement officials.  Because law enforcement is the primary contact between victims and the justice system it is critical that you understand how to respond to suspected victims. First and foremost I would challenge each of you to change your view of so-called sex workers from law violator to human being and ask yourself how did she (or he) get here?, then choose to see your role in terms of rescue rather than disassociated enforcer.  This is a critical step toward building trust between victim and authority.

Rebuilding of trust must be your number one priority when dealing with suspected victims. Reassurance is paramount in communication when dealing with victims that you are not the enemy.  Remember that victims do not self identify that they have been trafficked and have likely been condition to lie in order to protect themselves from the brutality of their captors. Considering this, it is important that you not expect the truth from a victim upon first encounter.  It may take repeated encounters to extract the truth from a suspected victim. Your demeanor with the victim more than anything can make the difference in terms of rescue and recovery. Be proactive!

Key Questions for Victim Identification

Identifying victims is often as simple as asking a few key question. The following is a suggested outline of questions when dealing with suspected trafficking victims as proposed by the Department of Defense Trafficking In Persons program:

·         How did you get here?

·         Where do you live, eat, sleep?

·         Do you own someone money?

·         Is someone keeping your legal/travel documents?

·         Have you been threatened if you tried to leave?

·         Has someone threatened your family?

·         Have you even been physically abused?

·         Have you ever been forced to stay in one place?

·         Who are you afraid of?

For ease of reference a pocket card is available for download at the following link:

Click to access LE_Pocket_Card.pdf

One of the greatest challenges for victims of sexual exploitation due to human trafficking is the restoration of dignity which may not be tangible but is no less a need (Burch, 2012).  For the victims of sexual exploitation, the stigma of being labeled “damaged goods” by a society that fails to understand the helplessness involved in human trafficking can seem insurmountable. When law enforcement choose to change the collective attitude away from the stigma of criminal offender toward the view of unwilling victim in regards to the trafficked then true healing can begin as well as prosecution of the true offenders; the traffickers.

*Don’t miss Part Four: Effective Intervention


Burch, A. (2012). National Reintegration Center for Human Trafficking Victims. CCJS360 – Victimology, University of Maryland

Department of Defense. Trafficking In Persons (TIP). https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:oHNSkT1L6UYJ:ctip.defense.gov/docs/training-TIP-LE.ppt+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESg6JaJ3DPziU8gqTAA31kyq6box8Z5fT1SO-Yhn_7lZxr2gEc4uukZrkG9tU61msAniABD-OzAQ4sRVI_QTZJ2G5bXR0XbvUfmZIPzsEBxfImoEz95Ei-HlOKyhhMYv90zuNqDh&sig=AHIEtbS1sM0WRpwxpK5xC8lkHcCTvMr_gQ&pli=1.

Doerner, William G., & Lad, Steven P. (2008). Victimology (5th ed.). Anderson Publishing: Newark, NJ

HB359 http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/e9a37ce7c8754f27b18f57e4c4a3a95a/AK-XGR–Human-Trafficking/#share 

Polaris Project. (no date). Domestic Sex Trafficking: The Criminal Operations of the American Pimp. A Condensed Guide for Service Providers and Law Enforcement. http://www.dcjs.virginia.gov/victims/humantrafficking/vs/documents/Domestic_Sex_Trafficking_Guide.pdf

Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).

© Amy Lynn Burch 2008 – 2012 

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