Police forces and protection of victims

There are many ways in which police forces can make sure a victim of THB for labour exploitation is protected and gets assistance. An important aspect is trying to make a victim feel safe again. Police forces and other criminal investigation services could:

Invite social workers or NGOs to be present during an action day

During an action day, it may be helpful to have a social worker or a representative of an NGO, such as a cultural mediator, present. This social worker can explain to the victim what is happening, why they are considered to be a victim and what their rights are. These professionals may also be able to assist in the communication between the investigators or inspectors and the victim, and thereby help to build trust between them.

Recognise NGOs as a point of contact for the victim

At each stage of the legal proceedings, NGOs that provide assistance to victims should be recognised as an important point of contact for the victim - if that is what the victim wants. This includes during investigation and hearings. This may make the victim’s involvement and cooperation in the judicial system easier.

Provide NGOs with contact details

NGOs could be provided with the name of a contact person of the investigating or prosecuting party. Then they can quickly activate safety procedures available for victims and witnesses when there is a risk of retaliation.

Have a victim care and witness care strategy

Such a strategy could recognise that victims could have different needs. Whether that is for example more medical assistance, emotional support or financial assistance. By planning ahead, all likely events may be handled properly and at the right time.

Screen the victims

When a large group of victims has been found, it may be an idea to screen the victims in order to focus the investigation on the worst cases. These cases will provide the best chance of a conviction. Do keep in mind that these cases may be more difficult, since these victims may be too traumatised to provide a statement.

Even if the investigation focuses mainly on some victims, the other victims also need to be interviewed and should be provided with the same support and assistance. Read more on how to protect and shelter large groups of victims.

Distinguish between traffickers and victims

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between traffickers and victims, especially if they are living together in similar circumstances. One criterion that might be used to determine whether someone is a trafficker or a victim is: find out if the person assisting the traffickers in exploiting the (other) victims was permanently under the control of the traffickers; or if they had more than enough opportunity to leave, for example because they lived separately.

Consider that assisting in the case may not be the victim’s priority

Consider that when a victim has left the trafficking situation, assisting in the case against the trafficker may not be their priority. This could be because of a number of factors. Some victims:

  • may be traumatised
  • may fear the perpetrator: A victim may fear countermeasures from the traffickers, for example because the traffickers had threatened them or their family. It is therefore important to understand the nature of the relationship between the victim and the traffickers.
  • may fear (cooperating with) law enforcement: A victim may be afraid of the authorities because of their illegal status, or because they earlier had a bad experience with authorities. Many of the victims are made to believe they are committing a crime and will be punished by authorities. They may also fear losing their jobs or any payments they are due, when they talk to law enforcement.
  • do not identify themselves as a victim: Victims do not always see themselves as a victim. For example because the working conditions and payment are not that bad compared to those in their country of origin.

Inform the police in the country of origin

Investigators could inform the police in the source country of the victim about the investigation. That way police in the country of origin can take action when the victim or their families are being threatened. This may put the victim’s mind at rest.

Try to make a victim feel safe again

Trauma and fear of the traffickers could mean that a victim is not prepared or able to disclose everything they went through straight away, and that their story may change over time. When it comes to prosecuting the traffickers, these issues can form significant obstacles. Making a victim feel safe again and helping them understand their situation is important. This may enable them to move forward. And it will hopefully convince them to press charges against their traffickers.

In order to tackle these obstacles, police forces and other criminal investigation services could:

1. Build the case independent of the victim:

  • Collect as much evidence as possible before talking to a victim:
    If investigators are able to prove (most of) the case without a statement from a victim, they may be able to convince the victim that their statement will not be made in vain and will not put them in danger. Of course, getting a conviction without a statement from a victim is only possible in countries where the prosecutor can bring a case on their own initiative.
  • Arrest the suspects before talking to the victim:
    If there is enough evidence, the suspected traffickers can be arrested before police officers talk to the victim. The fact that the suspects are locked up, may also help to convince a victim that they are no longer in any danger.
  • Explain the victims’ rights:
    It is important to explain to the victim that the way they have been treated is not normal and that they should not have to put up with this. This explanation may be given by the investigators or by a social worker or cultural mediator.
    More information on how to explain the situation to the victim can be found on the page Building a case. More information on the victims’ rights.
  • Draw up a document to inform the victim:
    Investigators could consider drawing up a brochure or letter in the language of the victim that explains why they want to talk to them, what their rights are, and what the procedures are, so victims know what to expect. That way, investigators can make sure the victim is given information in a language they can understand (on the condition they are able to read, of course).
    In Belgium, for example, frontline actors such as police and labour inspectors have copies of a multilingual brochure (in 27 languages) for victims of THB. They hand these brochures over to possible victims they come across during their interventions. The brochure can help a victim in recognising themselves as a victim and it advises them to contact a specialised assistance centre.

2. Make sure the victims’ needs are met:

A victim that is provided with shelter, care and assistance, is more likely to be willing to cooperate with the investigation.

3. Let the victim determine the circumstances of the interview:

When interviewing a victim, it is important to make the victim feel comfortable and in control of their own life again. If possible, the victim should be able to determine things such as the timing of the interview, the location (the police station or the shelter), whether they are interviewed by men or women, and so on.

4. Try to build trust with the victim:

In order to build trust with the victim, authorities could for example avoid wearing a uniform. Supporting the victim by personally attending public hearings of the trial may also increase trust between the victim and the police officers. Finally, police officers should of course make sure they adhere to the Ethical Code of their organisation.

5. Use proper interview techniques: In order to get reliable testimony, effective interview techniques could be developed.

Interviews of a victim could:

  • be carried out by specially trained interviewers. This may make the interview process a bit more bearable for a victim
  • be held using interpreters; specialised staff could also be trained on how to do this
  • be held taking into account the cultural background of the victim.

6. Think about the best location for the interview:

When the victim has gone home to their country of origin, there are several options for conducting an interview. It is important to think about the advantages and disadvantages of each option before deciding on the location.

The location for the interview could be:

  • the country of origin, in consultation with the local police
  • the country of destination; the local police may be able to help find the victim if contact has been lost
  • both countries, when the interview is conducted by video conference.

7. Avoid unnecessary repetition of testimony:

When interviewing a victim, it is recommended that the interview is recorded in such a way that it can be used as evidence in court, for example on video. In some countries it is possible to hear the victim in the pre-trial phase if the actual trial is still a long time off. That way, the testimony has already been entered in evidence for the trial.

In the Netherlands, a so-called ‘instruction judge’ can interview the victim in the presence of the defence lawyer. When this has happened, the victim does not have to appear in court during the trial itself. This will be of use when the victim decides to go to his/her home country, or in order to spare the victim the pressure of testifying in court.

Portugal has a similar instrument called ‘for future memory testimony’. This is mostly used for victims that are very sick or dying, must go abroad, might disappear, or should not be subject to several interviews.

Read more

More general information on the protection of victims.