Potential victims of trafficking are likely to be extremely vulnerable. They may fear revealing their status or experiences to state authorities and will often mistrust individuals in authority. Their ability to participate in any future proceedings, for example as a witness, will depend largely on their psychological, emotional and physical health.
This is a guide to the main issues and sensitivities which frontline practitioners should bear in mind when dealing with potential victims of human trafficking.
On first contact
- Front line practitioners have a responsibility to put the potential victim at their ease as far as they are able. This includes taking care around the verbal and body language used, which can have a significant impact on a distressed or traumatised victim’s state of mind
- Remember that individuals will have different needs and think about how best to manage those. Be prepared to adapt your approach according to the circumstances
- There may be language and communication barriers, including literacy or learning disabilities, as well as cultural considerations
- The Ministry of Justice produces foreign language leaflets to provide advice and support to those affected by human trafficking. Leaflets are available in Albanian, Chinese, Czech, English, French, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Thai, Vietnamese, and Welsh
- On initial contact, victims may appear unwilling to co-operate, especially if they are in the presence of their controller/traffickers or around other victims. It is likely that the victim has been isolated from family or friends and is living in an unfamiliar country or area. In addition to feelings of fear and intimidation, they may feel dependent on their controllers/traffickers who may be individuals well known to the victim. It’s possible they may not understand the concept of trafficking or identify themselves as a victim.
- Consider possible health concerns. Victims of trafficking suffer a wide range of psychological and physical problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder. They may have been vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, or may have been exposed to hazardous materials or dangerous working conditions. They could have been deprived of food, sleep or kept in slave-like conditions. It is possible that you may encounter a woman who is pregnant or has been forced to have an abortion.
- It is important to ensure that the appropriate physical healthcare and psychological support is provided to all victims in a timely manner
- Some victims will require immediate medical attention and counselling
- Remember that not all signs of distress or physical injury will be obvious. There could also be drug/alcohol misuse and associated behaviours
- Avoid any change of personnel in order to establish and maintain a rapport and help the victim to build confidence
- Research the cultural background of the victim in terms of gender, religion and ethnicity. This could influence the choice of interpreter and interviewing officer
- Check that the interpreter speaks the right dialect
- Don’t change interpreters unless requested by the victim
- Make sure interpreters are aware of the nature of their task and the length of time it may take
- Only use official interpreters from the national register
- Use female interpreters for female victims
- Appoint a victim coordinator
- At every stage help the victim to understand the process
All victim interviews should be conducted in line with ABE (achieving best evidence) practice. This means:
- Checking the victim’s health and fitness for interview first
- Ensuring the pace of the interview is considerate of the victim’s state of mind
- Explaining roles and processes and ensuring these are understood
- Recognising that the victim may feel stigmatised by the process
- Using neutral spaces for interviews which will put the victim at ease rather than make them feel more anxious
- Ensuring interviewers are not in uniform
- Using female interviewers for female victims