Engaging Survivors of Human Trafficking

Survivor Engagement in the Anti-Trafficking Field: History, Lessons Learned, and Looking Forward

Survivors of human trafficking play a vital role in combating this crime. Their perspective and experience should be taken into consideration to better address this crime and to craft a better response to it. They run organizations, advocate before legislatures, train law enforcement officers, conduct public outreach, and collaborate with government officials on local and national levels. They serve the anti-trafficking community and society at large as doctors, lawyers, mental health professionals, and more. Engaging survivors as partners is critical to establishing effective victim-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally competent anti-trafficking polices and strategies that address prevention, protection, and prosecution efforts. Meaningful engagement means collaborating with survivors in all aspects of anti-trafficking efforts such as developing practices, policies, and strategies, as well as prioritizing survivor leadership of those efforts whenever possible.

The goal of this introduction is to highlight and emphasize the importance of meaningful survivor engagement – specifically with experts with lived experience of human trafficking for whom sufficient time has passed since their victimization – and to share context, lessons learned, and guidance to governments, international organizations, civil society, private sector entities, and other stakeholders who wish to further their survivor engagement efforts. While many anti-trafficking stakeholders have long consulted survivors in their work, it is imperative that this engagement be done in a responsible and meaningful way and that stakeholders develop and improve upon their approaches to doing so. This effort will bolster inclusivity, help prevent sensationalism, and reduce potential re-traumatization of survivors. It will also promote more effective criminal justice responses that provide remedies for victims and survivors and help prevent trafficking crimes. This year’s introduction seeks to establish a solid foundation for how to responsibly engage survivors through trauma-informed approaches that promote transparency, trust, equity, inclusivity, and commitment to collaboration.

Human Trafficking Defined

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended (TVPA), defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as:

  • sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within this definition.


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