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Sex Trafficking: Identifying Cases and Victims

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2009
10 pages
Publication Series
This paper recommends procedures for identifying potential victims of sex trafficking, assessing suspected sex-trafficking, and prioritizing investigative steps.
Four recommendations pertain to the identification of potential victims of sex trafficking. First, develop and implement training and referral programs on sex and human trafficking for both law enforcement officers and others in the community. Second, develop a reporting relationship with neighboring jurisdictions. Third, regularly contact local nongovernmental organizations that might assist sex trafficking victims and ask for leads in targeting their exploiters. Fourth, work with confidential informants. Once a potential sex trafficking victim is identified, an officer must assess the victim and her statement for further law enforcement action. In this regard, four recommendations are offered. First, believe the victim until the investigation shows otherwise. Second, house and interview victims separately and observe their interactions with each other. Third, do not stop investigating because victims lie, especially early in the investigation. Fourth, be patient, because victims require time to overcome their trauma. Although sex trafficking victims provide the most compelling evidence for a successful prosecution, investigation should also collect evidence that corroborates victims’ statements. Five guidelines are offered for such evidence collection. First, once one victim has been identified, look for additional victims, with attention to former victims who have escaped their traffickers. Measured press releases can encourage additional victims to come forward. Second, exhaust the use of covert methods before conducting a raid or arresting the sex trafficker. Third, obtain and execute search warrants, anticipating needing additional warrants based on facts uncovered during the execution of initial warrants. Fourth, take a broad view of leads, identifying witnesses who may have observed interactions between the trafficker and the victim. Fifth, keep track of and in contact with victims in the course of the investigation. 1 figure, 5 notes, and an outline of the National Institute of Justice’s human trafficking research

Date Published: March 1, 2009