ATEST Calls on the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to Re-examine their Anti-Trafficking Policing Policies

WASHINGTON — Across the country, advocates are calling on policy makers and government agencies to address the history of structural racism in law enforcement and the impact of policing and mass incarceration on marginalized communities. In this critical time, it cannot be ignored that law enforcement efforts designed to counter human trafficking often result in the arrest and conviction of victims, mainly victims of color.

In 2018, through § 906 of S.1311 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue a directive regarding victim protection training and victim screening protocols to remedy this well-documented issue.

In our own on-the-ground efforts to assist trafficking survivors, ATEST members and allies have observed firsthand how law enforcement utilizes arrests and threats of criminal conviction as a method to identify human trafficking victims and force cooperation with law enforcement. These actions only serve to further traumatize trafficking survivors and deepen their distrust of both law enforcement and service providers.

There is a critical need for standardized victim-centered protocols that hold task force and law enforcement partners accountable to a higher standard when they engage with potential human trafficking victims, ensure anti-trafficking policing is free from all forms of racial bias and discrimination, and that all survivor interactions with law enforcement are trauma-informed and designed to connect survivors with community service providers.

Almost two years after the deadline for the statutorily-mandated directive in the TVPRA, ATEST requests that DOJ and DHS prioritize this initiative by comprehensively examining all law enforcement approaches that involve survivor access to protections and services related to anti-trafficking activities that target mainly communities of color. These include:

  • DOJ grants for anti-trafficking funds should not require joint applications from both a service provider and a law enforcement body, and victim services money should not be designated to fund law enforcement efforts. Instead law enforcement should dedicate an appropriate part of its own budget at the federal, state and local level to victim service providers when models of close cooperation are seen as best practices.
  • Service providers should not have to secure a letter of support from law enforcement in their community to receive anti-trafficking victim services funding.
  • Continued Presence, which creates temporary immigration relief for undocumented victims that only law enforcement can request, should be granted as a standard practice within 72 hours after the first interview law enforcement conducts with a potential victim, demonstrating that the safety and economic security for the victim is a top law enforcement priority.
  • Federal law enforcement agencies must shift their focus from counting the number of arrests and convictions stemming from anti-trafficking efforts to a longer term preventative approach that seeks to hold businesses accountable as traffickers under the financially benefiting standard (18 U.S.C. § 1593A) created in the TVPRA of 2008. Section § 307 of the U.S. Tariff Act (19 U.S.C. §1307) should also be better enforced to prevent goods made with forced labor from entering the United States. Both provisions to date have been woefully underutilized. It is only by holding employers and business accountable that we can prevent hundreds if not thousands of trafficking cases in the United States and globally.
  • Office of Justice Programs (OJP) should provide written guidance about funds used by law enforcement for anti-trafficking taskforces. Its guidance should specifically disallow use of funds for vice sting operations where no victims are likely to be identified and which often disproportionately target communities of color.
  • Taskforces funded by the OJP Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) should not publicly, or to BJA, report data resulting from vice-style sting operations as anti-trafficking efforts when such data involves arrests or citations of vulnerable workers and/or potential human trafficking victims.
  • DHS should ensure funding for its outreach campaign on trafficking is transferred to the Department of Labor (DOL) or the Department or Health and Human Services (HHS), as both agencies have long standing expertise in reaching out and engaging vulnerable communities, while DHS has not earned this trust.
  • DOJ and DHS should vocally support a federal vacatur bill now pending in Congress (S.3240, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act) to ensure that trafficking victims convicted of federal crimes that their traffickers forced them to commit have a way of clearing criminal arrest and convictions. Survivors currently have no way to clear their records. DOJ and DHS should be vocal in encouraging every state to do the same.
  • DOJ and DHS should listen to survivors and on-the-ground community advocates as a standard, regular practice about anti-trafficking policing policies. After these listening sessions they should implement written policies and procedures to ensure the community is heard.

ATEST suggestions in no way replace the critical systems reform needed across all law enforcement agencies being spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter Movement and immigrant rights organizations, and only scratch the surface with reforms needed overall in anti-trafficking efforts. However, as our country is taking a hard look at policing efforts, both at the local and federal level, law enforcement agencies must consider that anti-trafficking efforts should be re-created to replace a criminal justice led approach with a community organizing and outreach approach that better identifies and assists survivors on their own terms. The justice prioritized must be the justice that the survivors themselves are requesting.

Given the enormous influence and budgets that our federal law enforcement partners wield, this effort of active listening and then holding themselves accountable through written protocols, procedures, and a standardized complaint process when these procedures are not properly followed must be spearheaded by the agencies themselves. ATEST and other allied groups stand ready to deepen this discussion about improving procedures for our law enforcement partners.

ATEST is a U.S. based coalition that advocates for solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking and modern slavery around the world. We advocate for lasting solutions to prevent labor and sex trafficking, hold perpetrators accountable, ensure justice for victims and empower survivors with tools for recovery. Our collective experience implementing programs at home and abroad provides our coalition an unparalleled breadth and depth of expertise.  ATEST works as a collective in partnership with civil society, governments, and businesses to create fundamental change of the accepted norms that enable slavery and trafficking to persist around the world — from strengthening laws and business standards to building public will.

Current ATEST members include Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Free the Slaves, Human Trafficking Institute, National Network for Youth (NN4Y), Polaris, Safe Horizon, Solidarity Center, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, United Way Worldwide, Verite, and Vital Voices Global Partnership.

Media contact: Terry FitzPatrick | 571-282-9912 |