Life After Being a Victim of Human Trafficking

You’ve been a victim of human trafficking.

You’ve been rescued.

Now What Are They Gonna Do With You?

One question I get a lot is about what happens to human trafficking victims when they are found. Does government policy help them or re-victimize them? Do they have any rights in a country that is not their own? I was personally confused as to why victims were so afraid of deportation that they would not seek help from police – wouldn’t it give them an opportunity to escape their current situation and return home?

All these questions prompted me to do some reading.  Here is my attempt to pull together some of the information I have covered this week and summarize it in a way that makes it easier for us to understand.  All sources are listed at the bottom of the post.

So far, governments have responded to human trafficking victims in one of three ways:


  • Prosecutors do not want to take on the difficult challenge of prosecuting a trafficker when they can win the easier charges of prosecuting the victim for prostitution, document fraud, or immigration & labour violations.
  • In Bosnia, a woman that had been accepted into an IOM program as a trafficked person agreed to testify against her ‘owner.’  On the stand as a witness, the judge charged her with the use of false documents, despite the fact that she had just testified that the owner had purchased her, provided her with a fake passport, beaten her regularly, and forced her to work in a brothel without pay.
  • Why is this approach a problem? Victims are afraid to come forward, as they are the ones who will face punishment.  Deportation re-victimizes these women, because often traffickers are waiting for them back home to re-traffic them or punish them for going to the police.  Even when the victims are not re-trafficked, many feel too ‘dirty’ to have a normal life and return to the sex trade, their dreams shattered.


  • Often governments offer protection to the victim and allow them to temporarily stay in the country, on the condition that they testify against their traffickers.
  • In 2000 the European Union stated that their residence permits were not to be granted for the benefit of the victim, but for the sole purpose of facilitating prosecution of those engaging in human trafficking.
  • In the U.S., the TVPA (Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act) allows for the provision of temporary visas (T-visas) to victims of human trafficking, with a possibility of permanent residency.  However, they only offer 5,000 of these each year, regardless of how many human trafficking cases come forth.  Last year, only 213 T visas were granted.  The 2010 TIP Report claims that testimony against the trafficker, conviction of the trafficker, or formal denunciation of the trafficker is not required in order to be eligible for a T visa. However, the report immediately follows this by stating “however, such support counts in an applicant’s favor.” In other words, chances are victims will not get a T visa unless they are willing to testify.  This reveals the TVPA to be about prosecution, though they claim to focus on victim protection.
  • Why is this approach a problem? The prosecution model would be great if it actually gave out punishments that fit the crimes.  In Austria, a man guilty of human trafficking, bodily harm, rape, forced abortion, forgery, and damage to property received only 8 years in prison, though two victims had enough courage to come forward.  What do you think will happen to those victims in 8 years when he gets out, angry and full of revenge?  Sadly, 8 years is a high sentence for a trafficker; usually it is much lower even with more witnesses.  Dayna F. Haynes says this:

“If states with strong anti-human trafficking laws are unable or unwilling to prosecute and sentence traffickers for a number of years sufficient to cause traffickers to reconsider the benefits of human trafficking, then it is quite unlikely that states without sophisticated legal systems and laws will be able to do so.”


  • Measures to protect victims include psychological and social services, temporary employment, legal services, safe houses, and protection during the prosecution of their traffickers.
  • Helping the victim regardless of their willingness to testify is good because it is legally easier to identify a victim of human trafficking and provide assistance to them than to identify and prosecute a trafficker.
  • Why is this approach a problem? Victim-oriented models fail to get to the root of organized crime.

So what is to be done?  Haynes suggests that the best way to combat human trafficking is to take the best from the prosecution based model and the victim protection model, and add the missing elements:


  • People should be given the term if at ANY point they were not allowed to exercise control.  Even if their original mind-set had been to work in the sex trade but then found themselves enslaved in horrifying conditions they did not agree to, the term ‘victim’ should be applied to them.
  • Fortunately, the U.S. is taking some steps in the right direction. Last Wednesday they passed legislation that enables victims of human trafficking to clear their records of prostitution-related offenses.  Read more about this victim protection legislation from articles in Newsweek and Ms.Magazine.


  • Italy grants 5,000 work visas annually to Albanians, because Albania is its largest source country for human trafficking and smuggling.  Though limited visas are offered, if people understand that they may legally be able to migrate, they might not get lured by traffickers as easily.  This is something other countries could try as well.
  • Offering asylum for victims, so that they can stay in the country where they ended up, could be determined on a case-by-case basis if the following conditions apply:  (a) the victim experienced persecution by a group the government in their home country cannot/will not control, (b) there is a well-founded fear of being re-trafficked or experiencing retaliation from traffickers, and (c) there is a well-founded fear of social and economic ostracization based upon status as a victim.
  • The most serious obstacle to extending asylum status to victims of human trafficking lies in the state’s fundamental power to preserve its own gate-keeping power.  Some argue that this would open the floodgates and encourage women to seek out opportunities to be trafficked so they can get permanent residency. There is no way that people will volunteer for enslavement, rape, torture, and humiliation with the sliver of chance that they will be rescued and given residency in the country in which they end up.  This fear of gatekeeping, therefore, is unfounded.


  • Human trafficking should be made less economically appealing to traffickers.  The penalties for human trafficking should be higher, including the forfeiture of assets and restitution to victims.
  • The key here, however, is strong enforcement.  Laws must be fully implemented at every level. Police, border security, prosecutors, judges, and NGOs must all be engaged.  Funds available, shelters, repatriation, and integration procedures must be known by EACH official likely to encounter a victim.
  • As it stands now, traffickers will continue their operations until they know anti-human trafficking laws are actually being enforced.


According to p.51 of an ILO report, a survey was conducted with 185 clients (johns) in Italy, Japan, and Sweden, finding that only half would report an unfree trafficked prostitute.  Others openly admitted to a preference for young unfree persons because they are more “docile.”

Therefore, education campaigns aimed at deterring users of brothels must be more widespread.  Cut the demand.


  • Each country should have investigative teams that seek out their citizens who are engaging in child sex tourism. Furthermore, since peacekeeping forces and international workers are known to regularly and knowingly obtain services from trafficked women, governments must punish this type of behaviour.

From all this we can see that victim-based models and prosecution-based models do not have to butt heads, but can work together under the banner of immigration.

Michelle Brock

Used, Abused, Arrested, and Deported: Extending Immigration Benefits to Protect the Victims of Trafficking and to Secure the Prosecution of Traffickers by Dina Francesca Haynes **note: this link is to the free online version of the paper. For students who need the citing, you can search your school online archives for this paper, which was published in Human Rights Quarterly, Vol 26 no.2, May 2004, pp.221-272.

Trafficking in Persons Report 2010, Country Profiles by the US State Department

A Global Alliance Against Forced Labor: Global Report Under the Follow Up to the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work by the International Labour Office, Geneva

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