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Comparing Narratives of Justice: How Survivors, Criminal Justice Stakeholders, and Service Providers Perceive Justice in Human Trafficking Cases

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2018
17 pages

One of four products from the Urban Institute's study "Bending Towards Justice: Perceptions of Justice Among Human Trafficking Survivors," this brief presents the study's findings on human trafficking survivors' and stakeholders' perceptions of justice in such cases.


Between July 2016 and May 2017, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 80 human trafficking survivors and 100 human trafficking stakeholders in eight diverse metropolitan sites in the United States. Echoing survivors' critiques of the justice system, most law enforcement officers recognized that criminalizing survivors for actions related to their trafficking experiences reduced their trust in the justice system and undermined their cooperation in trafficking investigations. Prosecutors did not believe the justice system alone could help survivors recover from their victimization. Service providers were critical of the lengthy criminal justice processes, the failure of criminal justice personnel to identify trafficking survivors, and the criminalization of survivors for actions related to their trafficking experiences. Regarding how the justice system should counter trafficking, most survivors favored preventive remedies rather than the traditional retributive justice model that focuses on punishment and incarceration. Criminal justice stakeholders, on the other hand, perceived justice for traffickers as being processing through traditional case dispositions, including successful prosecution and appropriate sentencing. This view applied primarily to sex-trafficking cases, since the majority of criminal justice stakeholders interviewed worked mostly on such cases. Most service providers, on the other hand, mirrored the trafficking survivors' definitions of justice for traffickers, focusing on survivors' access to resources and allowing survivors to define and achieve their own understandings of justice. Trafficking survivors, justice-system personnel, and service providers agreed on how to improve policies, including reducing the criminalization of survivors, encouraging criminal justice stakeholders to be more compassionate and trauma-informed in their approach, and increasing training for system actors regarding the management of trafficking cases. 1 table and 17 references

Date Published: March 1, 2018