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January 2024 | Volume 17 | Issue 1

Employing a Multidisciplinary, Victim-Centered Approach to Improve the Responses to Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) enhances the nation’s capacity to assist crime victims and provides leadership in changing attitudes, policies, and practices to promote justice and healing for all victims of crime. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, the OVC awarded nearly $1.8 billion to expand access to programs that provide trauma-informed and culturally responsive services to victims. More than $96 million of that funding was awarded to empower communities responding to human trafficking, offer services to survivors, and provide comprehensive training and technical assistance (TTA) to the anti-trafficking field. Currently, the OVC is the largest federal funder of anti-trafficking programs in the United States, supporting direct services to survivors of both sex and labor trafficking, multidisciplinary approaches, statewide responses to child and youth trafficking, and TTA.

The OVC recognizes that anyone could become a victim of human trafficking. Trafficking can happen anywhere and may involve complex, cross-cutting crimes that may result in lengthy investigations requiring expertise from a wide range of government systems and community-based partners. Further, depending on their individual circumstances, human trafficking survivors may need a diverse set of services and support over time. Because of these challenging elements and the complexity of the crime of human trafficking, since 2004 the OVC and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Justice Programs have supported a multidisciplinary, collaborative response to human trafficking through the Enhanced Collaborative Model (ECM) Task Force to Combat Human Trafficking program. The ECM program offers federal funding to both a lead law enforcement agency and a lead victim service provider to co-lead a diverse set of multidisciplinary partners to investigate cases and provide access to services for victims and survivors of all forms of human trafficking.

What is an ECM task force?

An ECM task force includes victim and social service providers, law enforcement and prosecution personnel, survivor-leaders, and a range of other governmental and nongovernmental partners, who work together to identify trafficking victims, provide access to services, and conduct victim-centered and trauma-informed investigations to prosecute traffickers.

Service providers can use OVC funding to hire personnel and for a wide range of comprehensive services to survivors including crisis response, case management, housing, employment, education, physical and behavioral health, and legal services. Law enforcement and prosecution can use OVC funding to hire personnel dedicated to human trafficking cases, training, and professional development.

The OVC also funds multiple TTA programs to support ECM task forces and broader support to the anti-trafficking field. Many ECM trainings are cross-sector and cover issues and content specific to law enforcement, prosecution, and service provision.

What resources are available to your organization to help your response to trafficking?

Select resources and trainings of interest to law enforcement and prosecutors include the following:

  • Task force roadmap resource. Developing and sustaining multiple partnerships requires time and intention. The Multidisciplinary Collaborative Model for Anti-Human Trafficking Task Forces: Development and Operations Roadmap is a resource that offers guidance on the core elements of a task force’s function, growth, and sustainability. Anna Pastor with the Cook County (Illinois) ECM says, “The staging model in the roadmap gave us a way to spot what’s working and deduce clear steps to fill gaps. When we set our yearly goals, task force leadership consults each of the four core sections of the roadmap.”

  • Protocol resources. The roadmap notes that task force protocols are essential tools that help guide a collaborative response; they are separate from but complement and tie together the internal policies of individual member agencies. For example, law enforcement and service providers may have their own internal policies for handling confidential information or responding to tips. However, multidisciplinary efforts may break down or stall without shared protocols that address roles and responsibilities of each member agency and outline how issues are handled collectively among task force members. Personnel come and go, but protocols survive and can help task forces successfully navigate changes. OVC partners have created multiple resources to assist with protocols:
  • Katrina Natale from the Contra Costa (California) ECM comments, “The protocol development videos are so clear, succinct, and creatively put together; they hit all the key notes needed to overcome resistance to and generate engagement with the protocol development process in the task force.”

  • Training. OVC partner AEquitas provides training on victim-centered approaches to investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases. Current training topics include using wiretapping in state-level human trafficking cases, trafficking in local jails and prisons, working with sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE), forced criminality, and the prosecutor’s role in survivor-centered justice. In FY 2023, with OVC support, AEquitas will offer a set of trainings including a leadership institute for police and prosecution executives, advanced investigations, and effective strategies to identify and investigate labor trafficking.

    The OVC partners with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to offer virtual trainings and webinars focused on a wide range of topics about strategies to investigate and prosecute all forms of trafficking. Kevin Turner from the Tarrant County (Texas) ECM shares that the OVC-funded Leadership Institute to Combat Human Trafficking event “was attended by the command staff of a law enforcement partner.” He reflected, “After the event, they had a heightened understanding of human trafficking and the value of combatting human trafficking in a strong, collaborative manner, which resulted in their creation of a dedicated human trafficking unit and continued commitment to the Tarrant County ECM task force.”

  • Survivor engagement resource. In FY 2022, with OVC funding, the Survivor Alliance and ICF Incorporated launched Supporting Survivor Engagement in Anti-Trafficking (SETTA) programming for OVC grantees, including ECM task forces. This project helps jurisdictions create sustainable engagement with human trafficking survivors to improve anti-trafficking programming.

For more information and available free resources and assistance and to stay connected with OVC and learn about existing and upcoming funding opportunities, visit the OVC Stay Connected page.

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