Cooperation on the protection of victims

Working with victims of THB for labour exploitation requires both an understanding of their experience and a commitment to the protection of their individual rights and personal safety. What can organisations do to protect and assist victims of THB for labour exploitation, across organisations and across borders?

Strengthen a victim-centred approach

In a victim-centred approach, the victim comes first and their basic needs, privacy, safety, and well-being are prioritised. To make sure victims’ needs are met, the police, inspectorates, NGOs and other relevant organisations could work together.

Provide adequate protection and assistance to victims

Protection and assistance to victims needs to be tailored to their needs, particularly the differing needs of men and women. The needs could for example vary in terms of the length and the level of assistance needed. The organisations involved could realise adequate protection and assistance by:

  • informing social workers about the issue of THB for labour exploitation
  • assigning a dedicated case worker to facilitate access to protection, support services and benefits. These dedicated contact persons could liaise between the local government, social workers and NGOs on available options, administrative requirements and procedures
  • creating clear and unambiguous procedures for referral to protection and assistance (as part of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM); see below), to make sure that all cases are handled the same way
  • join forces with research institutes and social workers to research the specific needs of a victim in terms of assistance, for example of male victims, the prevalence and causes of re-trafficking, and protection against re-trafficking.

Map specialised physical and psychosocial health care providers

In cooperation with healthcare providers, the organisations responsible could set up processes to refer clients to the appropriate health care services. These processes could be written down in a protocol. Such a protocol could ensure that all victims are offered assistance equally, without a bias against for example men or victims receiving outreach care.

Create or organise jobs

Together with the private sector, (local) governments, foundations and NGOs could provide victims with a job. When a victim has a job, they may not be as easily convinced by the false promises of another recruiter and become a victim of THB again. For example, a local government in Hungary sets up personalised action plans for the (possible) victims. The plan includes offering a temporary job at local government institutions.

Provide support and assistance for male victims

The biggest difference between male and female victims may be in whether they are able and willing to speak about their (traumatic) experiences. Men may also feel very responsible to uphold an employment status to provide financial stability for their family. Providing support to male and female victims may therefore require an approach that differs in certain aspects.

Until 2014, there were no specific services and shelter available to male victims of THB in Austria. Now, Men VIA offers specific support for trafficked men, including an emergency shelter for trafficked men.

Discuss practices to find hard-to-reach victims

When the relevant agencies meet on a regular basis, and discuss the circumstances under which hard-to-reach victims work and live, they could exchange information and improve their practices to find hard-to-reach victims. In Spain, for example, the Technical Board on domestic service in Jerez, Andalucía aims to find hard-to-reach victims of THB for labour exploitation.

Organise safe return to the country of origin

A Transnational Referral Mechanism (TRM; see below) or bilateral contacts between for example the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the country of destination, the immigration services, embassies and NGOs in the country of origin and destination could benefit the victim when they want to return home.

Keep in touch with victims who have returned home

Multidisciplinary cooperation across borders is essential when a victim decides to go home. In this situation, the assistance of the authorities, shelters or NGOs in their home country will be needed:

  • when detectives need to interview the victim
  • when the victim wants and / or needs to testify in court
  • to make sure that the victim can claim and / or receive any compensation they may be entitled to and
  • to protect the victim and possible family members when they are being threatened by the traffickers.

The authorities in the country of the traffickers can be of assistance when search warrants need to be executed or documents found. A Transnational Referral Mechanism (TRM; see below) could provide the framework for such cross-border cooperation regarding victims.

Use a National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

The establishment of a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in all member states is the first action mentioned in the EU anti-trafficking strategy 2012-2016. A national referral mechanism is a complete framework that describes the roles and responsibilities of the various organisations in order to better identify, refer, protect and assist victims at a national level. Organisations can use this mechanism to understand which other organisations to involve when they come across a victim.

Develop a Transnational Referral Mechanism (TRM)

In order to ensure that assistance to victims continues when they move to another country, member states could agree to set up a Transnational Referral Mechanism (TRM). A Transnational Referral Mechanism (TRM) is a co-operative agreement for the cross-border complete assistance and/or transfer of identified or possible trafficked persons.

A TRM links all stages of the referral process - from the initial screening, through formal identification and assistance, to the voluntary assisted return, the social inclusion, and the civil and criminal proceedings. It is based on the co-operation between governmental institutions, intergovernmental agencies and non-governmental organisations of countries of origin, transit and destination of the assisted trafficked persons. Through the TRM, state actors of different countries can fulfil their obligations to promote and protect the human rights of trafficked persons.

According to the EU anti-trafficking strategy, the Commission will develop a model for an EU Transnational Referral Mechanism.

More information: