Protection, Support and Assistance of Victims
last updated September 1, 2005
A comprehensive strategy for combating trafficking must always consider the safety of the victims. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and state agencies that work with repatriated victims of trafficking should also address the multiple difficulties women face when they attempt to reintegrate. Victims of trafficking require comprehensive assistance in both destination and transit countries. Victims are always entitled to the protection of their basic human rights, and any measures adopted to protect victims should take into account age, gender and any special needs.
Victims of trafficking face a range of needs, including physical and mental health care, job training and employment issues, housing issues and, possibly, childcare. Victims need access to a range of support services such as medical, housing, and legal assistance. Child victims also require special protection. The types of services and assistance required by trafficking victims varies somewhat depending on whether the victim is still in the destination country or has returned to her country of origin.
Under principles of international law, States are obligated to provide adequate support for victims of crimes. The United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power states that victims are entitled to access to the justice system and prompt redress. Regarding assistance, the Declaration states: "Victims should receive the necessary material, medical, psychological and social assistance through governmental, voluntary, community-based and indigenous means. . . . Victims should be informed of the availability of health and social services and other relevant assistance and be readily afforded access to them." Victims of trafficking need access to accommodation, financial assistance, physical, sexual and psychological health care and support, and independent health, legal, and social counseling. Access to services should not be contingent on a victim's willingness to cooperate with authorities. Services should be timely and adequately funded. Victims should receive counseling about the benefits of sexual health examinations where appropriate, but such examinations should not be made mandatory. Victims should not be housed in detention centers, but instead should have access to shelters or other forms of accommodation.
In order to provide victims with access to services, governments may need to ensure that inter-governmental organizations and NGOs are adequately funded to assist in meeting the needs of victims. Such organizations play a critical role in providing services to victims. In 2001, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published a Reference Guide for Anti- Trafficking Legislative Review (PDF, 114 pages), which is also available in Russian (PDF, 151 pages)and Serbian (Prirucnik za Reviziju Zakonske Regulative protiv Trgovine Ljudima) (PDF, 138 pages). The Reference Guide includes detailed information about existing legislation that ensures protection of and assistance for victims of trafficking and also describes the role of NGOs:


[NGOs] are an important source of information on the phenomenon of trafficking and do an enormous amount of work to ensure that the basic needs of victims are met. . . . Effective and continuous victim assistance and protection requires that states provide relevant NGOs with sufficient resources and training opportunities. Effective victim assistance and protection also require well-functioning co-operation between NGOs and state authorities.


NGOs can play an important role in identifying the type of services needed by the victim, providing referrals, assisting the victim in making appointments with and visiting health care professionals and, in some cases, through the direct provision of services. In the destination country, a victim's most immediate need may be for safe accommodation and legal counseling to assist with immigration issues. Many NGOs have responded to the need for safe accommodation by creating temporary shelters for victims of trafficking. While trafficking victims in the destination country may be in acute need of medical or psychological treatment, they also frequently require long-term medical care when they return to the home country. NGOs that work closely with victims and know of their specific needs can advocate for the continuation of services for the victim in her country of origin.


Victims of trafficking need assistance in dealing with the legal consequences of trafficking. Victims should not be detained, charged, or prosecuted for entering the destination country illegally or participating in illegal activities where such activities are the direct consequence of their situation as victims of trafficking. In addition, victims need assistance in navigating the legal system of the destination country. This means providing victims with information about their rights in a language that they can understand, and allowing victims an opportunity to present their views and concerns. Victims should also be provided with work authorization and social benefits for the duration of their stay in a country. Because victims may not be able to safely return to their home countries, victims should be allowed to apply for permanent residence in the destination country. 


Child victims of trafficking should be identified and helped appropriately. Children should have access to education or vocational training. Child witnesses in judicial proceedings may require special accommodations.

Even after a victim of trafficking has been returned to her home country, the need for protection and assistance continues. The process of reintegration can be enormously difficult for trafficking victims. Rehabilitation programs should include all of the services mentioned above in the context of destination countries: shelter, financial assistance and health care. In addition, in order to reintegrate and begin new lives, trafficking victims can benefit from education programs, such as job training or vocational skills courses.

NGOs can also provide support for victims of trafficking through advocacy for protection of victims' rights. For example, three leading NGOs, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, the Foundation Against Trafficking in Women and the International Human Rights Law Group, collaborated on the drafting of Human Rights Standards for the Treatment of Trafficked Persons, which enumerates concrete actions that governments should undertake to fulfill their obligations to protect and assist victims of trafficking.

Guidelines and suggested measures for protection of victims are addressed in the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Recommended Principles on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, the Brussels Declaration, and the 2004 Model State Anti-Trafficking Criminal Statute (Note: Section 225 of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 recommends a new model state statute be promulgated.)