Publication - Research and analysis

Care and Support for Adult Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings: A Review

Published: 18 Oct 2012

A Review examining the care and support needs of victims of human trafficking and what works to meet those needs, including a consideration of Scottish provision.

Care and Support for Adult Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings: A Review
Section 3: What Works In Meeting The Needs Of Victims Of Human Trafficking?

Section 3: What Works In Meeting The Needs Of Victims Of Human Trafficking?

There is a clear consensus about what the needs of victims of human trafficking are, although there is very limited empirical evidence to identify what actually works in practice. The literature reviewed highlights the importance of responding to victims on an individual basis; providing an individual continuum of comprehensive services based on individual needs rather than categorised by type of exploitation suffered. However, there is a recognition of the importance of cultural needs of victims and gendered needs; ultimately good practice for victims requires a human rights based approach underpinning all aspects of provision. Given the proportionately high number of women trafficked for sexual exploitation there is a need for appropriate interventions by organisations experienced in working with victims of gendered violence.

Best practice for all victims should include:

  • safe and secure accommodation
  • legal assistance
  • medical intervention
  • trauma counselling and mental health services
  • practical support
  • other needs as they are identified

Long-term needs as well as short term needs should be considered and addressed which may require developed links with source countries should victims wish to return. Services should be focused on human rights and victim-centred. While the actual provisions required are evident, the international literature is clear that there needs to be consideration of the way in which these services are provided. Clawson et al (2009: 21) reflect the general aspiration expressed across the literature that ‘promising practices’ consist of:

  • “Safety planning (for staff and client)
  • Collaboration across multiple agencies
  • Foster trust and relationship building constantly
  • Ensure culturally appropriate approaches
  • Establish trauma-informed programming
  • Involve survivors”.

The ability of support services to meet their aims and objectives in the provision of care and support for victims cannot however, take place without examining the wider system as it impacts on the provision of these services. Responses to victims are contextually located within the wider framework of responses to trafficking.

Wider Systems

Human trafficking is a highly politicized term over which there has been substantial debate and concern. It covers a range of forms of exploitation of adults and children including: forced labor, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, and organ traffic. While persistent efforts by governmental, NGOs and humanitarian bodies have raised awareness over the years, conflict continues to hinder a unified anti-trafficking effort. This friction among activists, law makers and law enforcement is primarily the result of the different perspectives (see page 16) adopted by the different groups of actors.

Scotland seems to be in the process of trying hard to adopt the human rights, victim focused model; however, to do this requires a move away from law enforcement dominated processes. One way in which Scotland has demonstrated commitment to the human rights model is in allowing victims to apply for immigration, unlike Australia’s policy of forced repatriation for victims, which ignores the root causes that led to trafficking. This report has however, identified gaps within the Scottish model of victim support, surrounding issues of victim identification and awareness of human trafficking among front-line agencies (particularly those outside Glasgow), which impact on the extent to which dedicated services can support victims more broadly.

A key priority is the effective identification of victims in order that they can access support services. Ideally, human trafficking would be dealt with in an agency specifically designed for victim assessment and support which would focus on victim assistance and subsequently prosecution rather than the other way around. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (2011) has called for a separate system to identify victims. Problems arise when untrained officials are overwhelmingly concerned with the criminalisation of perpetrators or the deportation of irregular migrants than the welfare of victims. Evidence from support agencies indicates that there have been challenges in the identification of victims where police divisions perhaps have limited experience with trafficking victims. Where the police are First Responders and paperwork is not completed appropriately, this causes problems for victims at a later stage in the process. According to respondents however, the quality of UKHTC decision-making, staff expertise, and their relationship with other agencies is improving. TARA and Migrant Help are also attempting to raise awareness with other agencies and to support them in the identification and referral of trafficking victims but require long term resources in order to achieve this goal. Where specialist services exist, both in terms of support services and legal services, there have been significant developments in improving awareness and practices across other agencies.

Recognised problems with the NRM have led to efforts to develop the mechanism and improve co-ordination around it both at local and national levels. The Special Representative (2012) highlighted the need to: improve victim identification at an early stage of the process; and increase and speed up victims’ access to services. Similarly, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2011) recommended the development of a more effective multi-agency approach to victim identification; ensuring that quality standards for victim services are maintained while centralising the co-ordination and management of the provision of care; safeguarding the human rights of victims, to avoid further victimisation and encourage them to act as witnesses.

Multi-Agency v. Single Agency Approach

International models provide different recommendations in terms of whether a single agency or multi agency approach would be more beneficial to victim support services. The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group in the UK recommends appointing, “an independent anti-trafficking watchdog, based on the model of the Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings, with statutory powers to request information from the police, the immigration authorities, social services and NGOs and to report to Parliament” (2010:14). There is widespread agreement (Amnesty International, 2008; Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2011) that the operation of the Competent Authority should be based on a multi-agency model, where law enforcement and immigration officials share the function of identification with other relevant agencies, professionals and NGOs with expertise across all forms of trafficking.

As Clawson et al (2009) note, given the complex and extensive needs of trafficking victims, it would be impossible for a single agency to respond effectively, therefore collaboration across service providers is crucial. The United Nations (UNODC, 2008: 144) also emphasise the importance of partnerships between services in order to meet the needs of victims but note “the most critical factor in assistance and support programmes is that they should be comprehensive and integrated. (…) A ‘one-stop’ access to all the services required is still the best service delivery option for victims”.


One of the key areas in need of improvement is raising awareness of the pervasiveness of human trafficking and the depth of understanding of issues surrounding human trafficking. In particular there is a need for a better understanding of indicators and consequences of trafficking for forced labour and domestic servitude; at the same time, recognising that views towards ‘prostitution’ can also cloud coherent responses to women trafficked for commercial exploitation. This needs to happen on two levels, service level and population level.

There is a need to ensure that the strategic approach is spread out to front-line workers and First Responders and that staff are supported to recognise and respond to indicators of trafficking. Evidence suggests that there is still confusion among front line workers as to the difference between human trafficking and human smuggling. Similarly in the United States, the “Burden of Proof is placed, improperly, on the victim to prove that the ultimate intent of the trafficker was extreme exploitation” (Haynes 2007:360). In order for Scotland to fully adopt a human rights, victim-centric approach to human trafficking, this model needs to be adopted by immigration officials, UKBA, and law enforcement officers.

Reflection Period
Once a victim is identified as having been trafficked, the European Union requires that the victim be allowed a 30 day reflection period. Scotland exceeds this by offering a 45 day reflection period. Evidence indicates, however, that the average length of stay for victims accommodated by Migrant Help has been 69 days with some cases going well beyond that period due to delays with UKBA. This uncertainty while awaiting a decision on status can cause significant anxiety for victims and those supporting them. Victims are preoccupied with uncertainty not knowing what the future will hold for them. It is therefore important to ensure that the UKBA has sufficient resources to handle cases of human trafficking in a timely and efficient manner. Moreover, it was also noted that 45 days does not meet the intended aims of the reflection period and also constrains support services. Recognising these constraints, international ‘good practice’ is 90 days.

Address Gender and Sex Trafficking Focus

While acknowledging that the majority of identified victims of human trafficking are women and children, this review notes the potentially problematic focus on victims of sex trafficking. Without minimising the horror of this form of exploitation, there is also a need to improve awareness of and responses to victims of trafficking other than for commercial sexual exploitation. Provision of care and assistance may be excellent as provided by dedicated services, but problems continue with lack of awareness of this issue by professionals and court systems surrounding victims of domestic servitude and forced labour. The evidence reviewed indicates that gender-responsive provision is crucial and that women’s needs will differ from those of men, in certain respects.

Evidence: Call for further Research

This report is based on a comparative literature review, in addition to front-line case studies on trafficking victims, and interviews conducted with front-line actors. While it identifies the key needs of victims and reviews what is known about best practice based on international literature that currently exists, ultimately, much more in-depth research needs to be conducted in order to be able to identify and address the gaps in services and support for victims of trafficking. Only an in-depth qualitative research project, preferably with a longer-term scope would be able to answer the question of how effectively the needs of different victims are met in Scotland.


Email: Debbie Headrick