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Evaluating Services for Young Victims of Human Trafficking

Date Published
August 31, 2016

RTI International conducted an evaluation of three programs funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). These programs identify and provide services to victims of sex and labor trafficking who are U.S citizens and lawful permanent residents under the age of 18.

The goals of the evaluation were to:

  • Document program implementation in the three programs
  • Identify promising practices for service delivery programs
  • Inform delivery of current and future efforts to serve this population

The evaluation also described young people served by the programs and their service needs, services delivered by the programs, the experiences of young people and staff with the programs, and programs’ efforts to strengthen community response to trafficked youth.

Investigators uncovered five main findings:

  • Diversity of trafficked minors Trafficked youth include pre-adolescents, adolescents, and those of transitional age; of any race and culture; of any sexual orientation and gender identity; and tragically disadvantaged or apparently privileged.
  • Mixed results for programs. OVC-funded programs demonstrated success in connecting to some young people but struggled to reach others. It is unlikely that any single program can meet the needs of all victims.
  • Challenges in engaging survivors. Many young people served were wary of service providers and adults in general. Strategies used to engage them and keep them engaged included meeting immediate needs, responding to youth-identified priorities and being flexible.
  • Lack of quick fixes. Conditions that pushed and pulled young people into trafficking were frequently lifelong, if not generational. Program staff found it essential to remain available to young people and to connect them to other services, positive family members, positive peers and communities.
  • Programs as critical sources of expertise and assistance. OVC-funded programs offered unique expertise in trauma and resiliency, understanding of street economies and ability to align themselves with young people in a way that formal agencies rarely could. They provided valuable technical assistance to other organizations and case management services to victims.

The researchers developed recommendations for how to improve responses to young trafficking survivors in seven categories, with details on each available in the full report:

  • Coordinated community responses
  • Initial and sustained engagement with victims
  • Service delivery
  • Support for program staff
  • Law enforcement and juvenile justice response
  • Child welfare response
  • Education response

The three OVC funded programs examined were (1) the Standing Against Global Exploitation Everywhere (SAGE) Project, located in San Francisco and serving adults and youth affected by sexual exploitation through life skills programs, advocacy, counseling and case management for girls, including those in the juvenile justices system; (2) the Salvation Army Trafficking Outreach Program and Intervention Techniques (STOP-IT) program, located in Chicago and serving foreign trafficking victims and domestic youth engaged in the sex trade; and (3) the Streetwork Project at Safe Horizon, located in New York City and serving homeless and street-involved youth with drop-in centers, a residential program, counseling, health care, legal advocacy and other services. The investigators conducted the evaluation via five site visits at each of the three program locations between January 2011 and June 2013, including key informant interviews with program staff, partner agencies and clients.

About this Article

The work discussed in this article was completed under grant number 2009-VF-GX-0206 awarded by NIJ to the Research Triangle Institute. This article is based on the grant report Evaluation of Services for Domestic Minor Victims of Human Trafficking by Deborah Gibbs, Jennifer L. Hardison Walters, Alexandra Lutnick, Shari Miller, and  Marianne Kluckman.

Date Published: August 31, 2016