Vera Institute of Justice Fills a Critical Gap in the Fight against Human Trafficking
By Radha Desai
Of all the complex and multifaceted issues faced by individuals, organizations, and governments combating human trafficking, the most perplexing is victim identification. While we have powerful intelligence and law enforcement tools to monitor, track, and, ultimately dismantle trafficking networks, there is a serious disparity between the number of estimated victims and identified victims. This disparity undoubtedly distresses prosecution and conviction rates of traffickers.
According to global law enforcement data from the U.S. Department of State, 44,758 trafficking victims were identified in 2013 with 9,460 prosecutions and 5,776 convictions; figures specific to labor trafficking are meager in comparison with only 10,603 victims identified, 1,199 prosecutions, and a mere 470 convictions. The upcoming release of the Trafficking in Persons report will provide updated data for 2014. However, a substantial increase in victim identification is unlikely given trends from previous years. So the critical question is: why are we struggling to identify more of the estimated 20 million victims worldwide?
Several legitimate reasons explain shortcomings in victim identification–mainly the clandestine nature of human trafficking and the utter powerlessness of victims to seek help. But even with these considerations in hand, more clearly needs to be done. A better system of victim identification would not only enable victims to access critical services, but would also generate greater evidence against their traffickers. This would directly correlate to an increase in prosecutions, thereby increasing the risks for perpetrators.
In recognition of this fact, the Vera Institute of Justice spent two years developing the Trafficking Victim Identification Tool (TVIT), a 30-topic screening questionnaire to be used by law enforcement and service providers to positively identify victims. From the myriad of identification tools available, the one developed by Vera is unique for several reasons. Firstly, it is the only validated tool to identify victims of human trafficking in the United States. Validation proves that the tool, when administered according to the user guide, is able to distinguish trafficking victims consistently and reliably. It correctly measures several dimensions of human trafficking and predicts victimization for both sex and labor trafficking across sub-groups. The tool has also been adapted into a shorter, 16-item version with only a minor loss in predictive capability. Most importantly, Vera has ensured that the tool, available in Spanish and English, remains on the public domain, enabling law enforcement, service providers, and prosecutors to access and use it in their anti-human trafficking operations.
The Trafficking Victim Identification Tool represents a much-needed catalyst. An increase in victim identification will open the door for victims to access essential services, allow law enforcement officials to gather evidence against traffickers, and aid prosecutors in securing convictions. A formidable fight against human trafficking cannot be waged without successful convictions to deter future traffickers. The Vera tool will help law enforcement identify victims and ultimately help us build cases against a greater number of perpetrators to disrupt the business of human trafficking.