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Understanding the Scope and Nature of Forced Criminality in the United States

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
New York
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $997,729)

Human trafficking for criminal exploitation, or forced criminality, is a type of trafficking in which the victim is exploited by being forced to engage in illegal activities, such as street crime, begging, or drug trafficking. Little is known on the extent of forced criminality, associated risk and protective factors, or demographic profiles of individuals who experienced forced criminality. Existing data indicates that many human trafficking victims are arrested and experience criminalization while in their trafficking situation. Law enforcement and judicial authorities often do not have adequate training for screening and identifying trafficking situations. Additionally, due to bias and a lack of victim-informed practices within the criminal justice system, many individuals who were forced to commit crimes are not taken seriously as human trafficking survivors. Thus, many individuals who have experienced forced criminality are not identified as human trafficking victims and may experience further victimization through their interactions with law enforcement. Existing vacatur laws also leave a gap in protections for many individuals experiencing forced criminality, resulting in the arrest and prosecution of many victims. The social stigma and institutional discrimination that comes with an arrest record also leaves many individuals further vulnerable to revictimization and trauma.
Better understanding the nature and scope of forced criminality, as well as investigating existing barriers to identification of victims and the services and resources that could help meet victim needs, are essential for increased recognition of this phenomena and the development of trauma-informed, survivor-centered practices. The proposed study will increase the body of knowledge on forced criminalization through the development of a brief screening tool for forced criminality, investigations of vacatur records, and interviews to better understand forced criminality and the existing barriers to identifying and supporting victims who experience it. Interviews will be held with trafficking survivors as well as criminal justice and service provider stakeholders to get a more holistic view of the situation from multiple perspectives. Both the screening tool and information gathered through the course of victim and stakeholder interviews will be useful for the development of targeted tools and resources that can be used to improve identification and support efforts for trafficking victims in the future.

Date Created: September 14, 2023