3 Reasons Human Trafficking Intervention is Essential
There are three main pillars of anti-trafficking work: prevention, aftercare, and intervention. Intervention, sometimes referred to as “investigation” or “prosecution,” is challenging and complex — and it’s absolutely vital.
It is notoriously difficult to intervene in active trafficking situations. Human trafficking happens in hidden places. It’s sometimes perpetrated by powerful crime syndicates. And intervention can be ethically challenging.
In light of all of this, human trafficking intervention can seem intimidating, too risky, or not worth pursuing.
At The Exodus Road, we’ve spent over a decade honing best practices in the field of human trafficking intervention, focusing in particular on sex trafficking. Here are 3 reasons we believe human trafficking intervention is so important and worthwhile, despite the challenges.
1. Human trafficking intervention is a globally recognized priority.
The U.S. Department of State releases a yearly Trafficking in Persons Report that assesses individual countries’ response to human trafficking. The report offers recommendations for how each country can improve its action against human trafficking.
In 2022, the U.S. State Department’s number-one recommendation in each of the countries where The Exodus Road works was to increase human trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions.
That’s precisely what human trafficking intervention allows by providing detailed and actionable evidence to law enforcement.
2. Investigations make a significant impact.
The potential for impact through human trafficking intervention is huge. According to the UNODC, traffickers exploit an average of seven victims. This means that, on average, each trafficker arrested could spare seven would-be victims from exploitation.
According to the same report, a victim of human trafficking experiences an average of 22.5 months of abuse. Given seven victims being spared through one human trafficking arrest, that could mean 13 cumulative years of abuse prevented.
Intervention sends the message to traffickers that this crime won’t be tolerated. In some scenarios, the tragic truth is that traffickers can exploit others with a relatively low risk of being caught. Investigation, prosecution, and conviction make trafficking higher-risk and warn traffickers of the consequences of this crime.
3. Leaving human trafficking voluntarily is rarely possible.
Experts in the field agree that human trafficking raids — when law enforcement forcibly enter places such as factories, fishing boats, or brothels to intervene — can be deeply traumatic for survivors. So why intervene, rather than allowing survivors to leave on their own terms?
Intervention responds to the reality that most people being trafficked can’t leave. This is particularly true in low- and middle-income countries, where young girls and boys from rural areas are transported to large cities and forced into labor or sex work. In these scenarios, intervention from police may offer the only possibility of freedom.
One of the most crucial ways to minimize the trauma an intervention can inflict on a survivor is diligent investigation beforehand. Due to the cyclical nature of exploitation, rushing into a situation without prior detailed intelligence gathering can make it difficult to discern who is being exploited and who is doing the exploiting.
Nonprofits can partner with law enforcement in offering meticulous evidence gathering that allows law enforcement to enter a human trafficking situation knowing exactly who they intend to arrest and who they need to free.
Who should carry out human trafficking intervention?
Even if we conclude that human trafficking intervention is necessary, some people might have concerns about whether nonprofits should be involved. What if we just left investigative work to law enforcement?
Police are often extremely under-resourced to combat modern-day slavery, especially in low-income countries where technology and manpower might be sparse. Even in the United States, nonprofits have become key players in the fight for freedom.
“For local law enforcement, one of the biggest hurdles in investigating human trafficking is having the availability of officers to handle a crime like this,” explains Theresa Nietzel, a human trafficking investigator with the Erie County, New York Sherrif’s Office. “The solution is having partners who are trained to do this. It’s important for agencies to realize that help is available and they don’t have to do it alone.”
Nonprofits like The Exodus Road, with their highly skilled and vetted investigative teams and access to technology platforms for cyber investigations, have become a key part of filling the gaps.
Human trafficking intervention matters.
Given the enormity of the problem and the urgent needs of people in trafficking right now, investigating cases so that law enforcement can act remains a key part of the fight.
This will be true for as long as humans are still being bought and sold. When approached with excellence and integrity, human trafficking intervention can help usher in the systemic change necessary to end this global scourge.
To learn more about the expertise and ethical practices necessary to carry out human trafficking intervention, keep reading here.
By Mary Nikkel, Senior Writer at The Exodus Road, TWG Client