Rebuilding Lives and Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking

labor trafficking and other forms of victimizationKeeping victims safe should be of utmost priority when tackling labor exploitation and trafficking cases. However, our current system lacks some of the fundamental tools to do just that. Those that survive exploitation and trafficking need assistance in addressing their short term and long term needs. Not only must their trauma be addressed but also the aspects of their lives that left them vulnerable to the trafficking or exploitation in the first place.

Survivors of labor trafficking have endured significant abuse. Their trafficker has complete control over their lives. The trafficker arbitrarily decides when or even if victims get paid and how much. They provide inadequate housing and seize control of any identification documents leaving victims afraid to call for help in fear of arrest or deportation. An employer having so much control over their lives deprives victims of their autonomy and sense of self. This, coupled with physical, sexual, and mental abuse, results in a long road to recovery for those that manage to escape. They need assistance in rebuilding their lives. International standards for trafficking victim protection and assistance take all of this into consideration.

Unfortunately, protection standards within the U.S are not nearly as comprehensive as international standards. There are federal and state laws offering protection from deportation, work authorization, federal public assistance, and case management assistance. However, they are hard to obtain and put an undue burden on the victim. Undermining the victim protection that they claim to provide, the laws require the cooperation of victims in criminal investigations against traffickers in order for them to receive assistance. Foreign nationals and U.S. citizens face additional challenges and neither is fully protected.

U.S. trafficking law benefits focus largely on foreign national victims. Domestic victims are often left with little resources to address their vulnerability and protect them from future trafficking. For instance, people that are barred from public assistance for any reason are unable to qualify for the benefits that so many victims require. This makes them easy targets for abusive employers and makes recovery even more difficult. Our current system offers no waiver ensuring that all U.S. citizen victims of trafficking can get assistance.

Foreign national victims may have designated protections but face challenges in accessing them. Victims must first meet an administrative definition of “trafficked” to be certified as “a victim of severe form of human trafficking. “ Once this criterion is met victims must then follow a multi-stage process to receive full benefits and protection. Federal law, in opposition to international law, requires adult victims to participate with the investigation and prosecution of the crime to receive certification and receive protections. One of the most important forms of protection for foreign national victims is protection from deportation. There are three different ways for victims to avoid deportation yet all three require that victims participate in the investigation of their trafficker. Only after they have agreed to this can they file for protection from deportation. Only children or victims with severe trauma are exempt.

In addition to linking protection with investigation cooperation, there are other shortcomings in our system. A lack of funding has left service providers without capacity to help all trafficking victims. Victims especially need a safe place to stay, but there is a general lack of housing, especially for male victims. If victims cannot find a safe place to stay in the midst of escaping their abusive employer they often find themselves with no other option than to return.

Victims of labor exploitation do not even have access to the limited protections available to victims of labor trafficking. Being recognized as a labor exploitation victim provides no financial supports, no access to benefits, and no protection from deportation, no matter how much the victim may need those things to rebuild their lives and help bring an abusive employer to justice.

The Advocates makes several recommendations in “Asking the Right Questions” to help ensure that victims of labor trafficking and exploitation receive the assistance they require.

· Policy makers should develop a statewide network so all victims of human trafficking, regardless of gender, age, or nationality, have access to services, including both existing services and new funding.

· Policy makers should amend federal law to remove the requirement that victims cooperate with law enforcement to receive services and protection from deportation.

· Policy makers should create a state law to ensure all victims of human trafficking under Minnesota law receive access to services and assistance.

· Policy makers should create a state law to ensure all victims of human trafficking under Minnesota law receive access to services and assistance.

· Policy makers should amend federal law to ensure that domestic trafficking victims who may be otherwise ineligible for public benefits can receive certification, case management, cash assistance, and other help currently available to foreign national victims.

To read all of the recommendations on better protecting victims of labor trafficking and exploitation visit “Asking the Right Questions: A Human Rights Approach to Ending Trafficking and Exploitation in the Workplace.”

 

By Halimat Alawode, a 2017 graduate of St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota with a major in Women and International Development. During the fall of 2016, she was a research intern with The Advocates’ human trafficking team.

This post is the third in a series on labor trafficking.  Additional post in the series include: 

Shedding light: Labor Exploitation and Labor Trafficking

Am I a Victim of Labor Trafficking and Exploitation?

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