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Justice in Their Own Words: Perceptions and Experiences of (In)Justice Among Human Trafficking Survivors

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2018
18 pages

One of four products based on the Urban Institute's "Bending Towards Justice: Perceptions of Justice Among Human Trafficking Survivors," this brief presents the study's findings on trafficking survivors' experiences with the criminal justice process and their perceptions of justice.


The findings indicate that although survivors' perceptions of justice varied depending on their backgrounds and prior experiences with justice system actors, most faced challenges in their interactions with the criminal justice system. Their preference was to be helped through non-criminal justice alternatives. Domestic sex-trafficking survivors reported high levels of mistrust and negative perceptions of justice-system actors, often because of past mistreatment, abuse, and criminalization from law enforcement personnel and procedures. Foreign-born survivors of labor trafficking had more trust in the justice system, but were less aware of legal policies and proceedings. Most survivors did not endorse traditional forms of retributive justice for their traffickers. They felt justice could best be achieved through prevention rather than punishment. Their perceptions of justice for themselves differed from their perceptions of justice for their traffickers. For themselves, justice was viewed as the option and ability to move on from their trafficking experiences to find autonomy and empowerment by achieving self-defined goals. Recommendations for improving the justice system response were to adopt a more compassionate approach, stop the criminalization of survivors, hire more diverse law enforcement agents, and improve training for justice-system personnel. The study obtained data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 80 human trafficking survivors in eight diverse metropolitan sites in the United States. Clients had to be at least 18 years old and be willing to share their stories. 1 table, 1 figure, and 17 references

Date Published: March 1, 2018