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October 2014Vol. 15, No. 9Identifying Human Trafficking Victims

Human trafficking, in the forms of sex trafficking and other involuntary forms of forced servitude, occurs every day in the United States. In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act made it a Federal crime to traffic in persons, and every U.S. State has since instituted laws to prevent human trafficking. However, one of the primary barriers to the enforcement of these legislations is the difficulty in identifying victims of trafficking. By the very nature of the crime they are subjected to, victims of trafficking are often hidden out of fear, and they remain out of sight of the public eye. If they do come into contact with U.S. authorities, they are sometimes treated as criminals rather than victims. Because so few of the current victims of trafficking have been accurately identified, it has been difficult to get a good estimate on the real scope of the problem. In order to help victim service providers and law enforcement personnel more accurately identify victims of human trafficking, the Vera Institute of Justice created a screening tool for interviewing potential trafficking victims.

There are two versions of the tool: a short, 16-question version and a longer, more detailed 30-topic questionnaire. Service providers can choose to use the version that best meets their needs at the time. For example, staff conducting a preliminary screening may wish to use the shorter version, while staff that follow up with the victim may want to proceed with the longer questionnaire once the victim feels more comfortable providing greater detail about his or her story. Because child welfare professionals often come into contact with victims of human trafficking, this tool may be useful in their work.

The questionnaire was field-tested with a sample of 180 different potential trafficking victims. Victims who had already gone through a screening process were also interviewed using the tool, along with service providers and law enforcement personnel. Statistical analyses showed that the tool has a high rate of accurately and reliably predicting trafficking outcomes and identifying victims of trafficking, with the short version presenting comparable results to the longer version. The tool is accompanied by a detailed user's manual, which includes guidelines for administering screenings using the tool, tips for conducting interviews, frequently asked questions and advice, and other resources for training and further information.

To access the short and long versions of the Trafficking Victim Identification Tool, available in English and Spanish, as well as a research summary and the full technical report on the testing and validation of the tool, access Vera's website.

Out of the Shadows: A Tool for the Identification of Victims of Human Trafficking is available here: