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For Human Trafficking Survivors, Justice Is More About Healing and Preventing Future Trafficking

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2021

This article presents insights from NIJ-supported research on trafficking justice, including a finding that most trafficking survivors favor prevention and victim healing over incarceration of perpetrators.


In a study by the Urban Institute, researchers interviewed 80 labor and sex trafficking survivors across the nation, as well as 100 social service and criminal justice stakeholders, in order to understand their perceptions of justice in human trafficking cases.

A pivotal insight was that more than three-quarters of interviewed survivors did not view justice in terms of seeing their trafficker incarcerated. Drilling down, the research team found that domestic survivors of sex trafficking expressly criticized incarceration’s value as a means to achieve accountability for traffickers’ wrongdoing. Although survivors agreed on the importance of holding traffickers accountable, across the board labor and sex trafficking victims saw justice primarily in terms of stopping traffickers from harming others.

The researchers see potential in three alternative models of justice in the context of human trafficking: procedural justice, restorative justice, and transitional justice. Researchers concluded that all three models have the potential to improve survivor perceptions of justice and reform the system in ways that better accommodate the rights and needs of victims.

Date Published: April 1, 2021