The Promise of Freedom

The United States’ commitment to fighting modern slavery did not simply materialize 12 years ago with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) or the adoption the same year of the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol). This country’s tragic history is not forgotten, nor are the bloodshed and lives lost in the fight to end state-sanctioned slavery.

The year 2012 will mark the 150th anniversary of the date Abraham Lincoln gave notice of the Emancipation Proclamation. That document and the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, following three years later, represent more than policies written on paper. They represent the promise of freedom.

The U.S. Congress subsequently passed laws and federal authorities prosecuted cases in the wake of the Civil War to make clear that this promise of freedom extended to all, from the Hispanic community in the Southwest, to immigrants arriving from Europe, to Chinese workers who built the western railroads, to Native Americans in the Alaska territory.

A century and a half later, slavery persists in the United States and around the globe, and many victims’ stories remain sadly similar to those of the past. It is estimated that as many as 27 million men, women, and children around the world are victims of what is now often described with the umbrella term “human trafficking.” The work that remains in combating this crime is the work of fulfilling the promise of freedom—freedom from slavery for those exploited and the freedom for survivors to carry on with their lives. The promise of freedom is not unique to the United States, but has become an international promise through Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Palermo Protocol to the Transnational Organized Crime Convention. The challenge facing all who work to end modern slavery is not just that of punishing traffickers and protecting those who are victimized by this crime, but of putting safeguards in place to ensure the freedom of future generations.


A few years ago, stories about human trafficking appearing in the press tended to focus on a victim’s suffering or a long-delayed arrest. Those stories still appear. But there is a shift underway. Today, reports on trafficking in persons are about not just the crimes that have been uncovered, but also the many things that people are doing in their communities to eradicate modern slavery. Modern slavery is the centerpiece of new, public-private partnerships and has become a focus for faith-based communities. New developments in supply chain monitoring and corporate social responsibility are producing valuable collaboration between governments and key industries. The modern abolitionist movement is expanding beyond a narrow band of civil society and pockets of concerned government officials. It is entering the public consciousness in a way that builds not just awareness and concern, but also activism and action, both globally and locally. A new generation of informed and interested citizens is beginning to look inward and making the choice to reject lifestyles sustained by exploitation. For all those who continue to live in bondage, this moment could not have come too soon.

As more voices cry out for action to respond to modern slavery, governments must redouble their own efforts and face this challenge head on. Traffickers are criminals. Governments—which alone have the power to punish criminals and provide legal recourse to survivors—cannot waver in their efforts to confront modern slavery.

Like previous editions, the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report satisfies a statutory mandate to look closely at how governments around the world are fulfilling their obligations to combat this crime. It emphasizes continued and strong government action as the foundation upon which the fight against modern slavery is built. And it both makes government-specific recommendations, and calls upon the international community as a whole to advance a more robust victim-centered response to this crime.


Human trafficking appears in many guises. It might take the form of compelled commercial sexual exploitation, the prostitution of minors, debt bondage, or forced labor. The United States government, and increasingly, the international community, view “trafficking in persons” as the term through which all forms of modern slavery are criminalized.

Why, then, are so many different actions considered the same crime? Why are so many terms used to describe one human rights abuse? Exploitation lies at the core of modern slavery. Whether held on a worksite or trapped in prostitution, a victim of this crime has suffered an infringement of the right to be free from enslavement.

When that right has been compromised, governments are obligated to restore it. The Palermo Protocol’s “3P” paradigm of prevention, prosecution, and protection reflects a comprehensive victim-centered approach to ensuring that the rights of individuals are guaranteed. Through prevention measures, governments can work to forestall the violation of rights. Prosecution efforts seek to punish those whose actions have subjugated the lives of their victims through enslavement. Protection efforts seek to provide appropriate services to the survivors, maximizing their opportunity for a comprehensive recovery.

In this paradigm, strong protection efforts bolster the effectiveness of law enforcement activities and successful prosecutions in turn serve to deter the crime from occurring. A fourth “P”—partnership—is integral to the success of any anti-trafficking strategy. Governments, civil society, the private sector, and the public at large working together will lead to the most effective response to modern slavery.

Like perpetrators of any crime, such as assault or murder, traffickers must be brought to justice. Governments are the only entities that can pass and enforce domestic laws. But just punishing the offender is not enough. Rights that are violated must be restored.

The crime is not abstract; it is about people. Every single occurrence of modern slavery is happening to a person—someone’s sister, mother, brother, father, daughter, or son. Protection does not mean only rescue and isolation; although it may require getting someone out of harm’s way, protection must be as adaptable and dynamic as trafficking is insidious and unpredictable. Ultimately, true protection means giving victims access to and a choice among options—and recognizing that they are unlikely to choose to participate in shelter and rehabilitation programs that are restrictive or serve merely as pre-deportation waiting periods.

Because this crime undermines the most basic human rights, protection services must be considered just as important as investigating and prosecuting the offenders. The damage inflicted by traffickers can never be undone, but it may be repaired. If governments fail to provide comprehensive protection as a complement to prevention and prosecution efforts, they risk deepening, rather than alleviating, the original harm.

The following section of the Trafficking in Persons Report details promising practices, as well as potential pitfalls that governments should bear in mind when providing protection services to victims.


Trafficked people have typically been tricked, lied to, threatened, assaulted, raped, or confined. But the term “victim” does not mean that a person who has suffered those crimes was necessarily incapable or helpless. In many cases, these people have shown tremendous strength in the face of horrible adversity.

Sound policy both acknowledges that a crime has occurred and honors victims’ agency and autonomy.

People fall victim to trafficking for many reasons. Some may simply be seeking a better life, a promising job, or even an adventure. Others may be poverty-stricken and forced to migrate for work, or they may be marginalized by their society. These vulnerabilities do not mean that those who are victimized are dependent on someone else to empower them. It often means that they had the courage to pursue an opportunity that they believed would change their lives and support their families. Traffickers see and understand this reality, and through imbalances in power and information—and a willingness to use coercion and violence—they take advantage of their victims’ hope for a better future.

Law enforcement agents, good Samaritans, and civil society, among others, are often instrumental in helping a victim escape the trafficking situation. For some, though, freedom comes as a result of summoning the courage to escape their abuser when the opportunity presents itself.

Global best practices can serve as useful guides for the effective provision of victim services. These include, for example, the immigration relief given to trafficking victims in Italy; the package of medical, psycho-social counseling, and legal aid provided to suspected trafficking victims in the United Kingdom; or the work authorization given to victims in Taiwan. The specific actions comprising a victim services regime must allow for flexibility to tailor a response specific to individuals’ experiences and needs.


The foundation of a government’s victim-protection response must necessarily be rooted in that country’s anti-trafficking law. An effective anti-trafficking statute provides a clear definition of who constitutes a trafficking victim and sets forth the legal status and recourse to which victims are entitled. This approach flows naturally from the victim-centered, rights-based approach of the modern era; governments should not base their response on nineteenth-century laws that viewed trafficking in persons as the transnational movement of prostituted women, and traffickers as violating state sovereignty by bringing “immoral” persons over the borders. Such an approach is inconsistent with the modern framework established by the Palermo Protocol, which rejected and replaced this outdated formulation with a crime centered on the exploitation of the individual.

Who is a Victim?

Because trafficking in persons is manifested in a wide range of forms, anti-trafficking laws must consider the many different types of victims who are exploited. Narrow definitions of trafficking could potentially exclude some victims from receiving the justice, protection, or benefits they deserve. If a law fails to protect all victims of trafficking under its provisions—excluding, for example, men, laborers, adults, or those who have not crossed a border before being enslaved—certain victims may find themselves accused of violating other, non-trafficking laws for actions that are connected to their victimization.

Unfortunately, the arrest, incarceration, and/or deportation of trafficking victims occurs far too often. These actions undermine the goals of a victim-centered response and constrain law enforcement efforts to bring traffickers to justice. Research reveals, for example, that a considerable number of prostituted minors and other trafficking victims are arrested every year in many countries, including the United States. According to the Palermo Protocol, however, all prostituted minors are considered victims of trafficking in persons. Without domestic laws consistent with this international standard nor proper efforts to screen for victims—such as training the law enforcement and justice officials likely to encounter these individuals—they can be swept into a system that views all persons in prostitution or undocumented immigrants as criminals and treats them accordingly.

A law must ensure to provide a victim-centered framework for fighting modern slavery in which everyone victimized by trafficking, whether for labor or commercial sexual exploitation, whether a citizen or immigrant, whether a man, woman or child, is considered a victim under the law.

Indicators of Victimization

While no two experiences of human trafficking are exactly the same, many traffickers use similar methods to keep their victims enslaved. An understanding of common responses to trauma can also be used to determine whether an individual has been trafficked.

Common Methods of Control

  • Restriction of movement:
    • Confiscating passports, visas, and/or identification documents
    • Constantly accompanying the victim, insisting on answering questions on behalf of the victim, and/or translating all conversations
    • Isolating the victim by not disclosing his or her location or address
    • Requiring the victim to live and work in the same location
  • Harmful living conditions:
    • Restricting access to food and appropriate clothing
    • Forbidding access to appropriate medical care
    • Not allowing time off or sufficient time to sleep
  • Harmful working conditions:
    • In exchange for work opportunity, charging a large fee that is difficult or impossible to pay off
    • Requiring unusually long work hours with few or no breaks
    • Restricting the number of days off
    • Providing little to no pay or irregular pay

Common responses to trauma and victimization

  • Physical Reactions:
    • Weakened physical state
    • Bruises, cuts, or other untreated medical ailments
    • Complaints of stomach pain
    • Heart palpitations
    • Extreme changes in eating patterns
  • Emotional Reactions:
    • Loss of memory related to the traumatic event
    • Frequent bouts of tearfulness
    • Detachment
    • Feelings of self-blame
    • Emotional numbing or emotional response that does not fit the situation
    • Flashbacks or nightmares
    • Anxiety and fear
    • Difficulty making decisions and/or concentrating
    • Avoidance of eye contact in a manner not related to culture

While the above signs taken alone do not indicate with certainty that an individual is a victim of trafficking, many victims describe these methods of control and exhibit these traumatic responses when they talk with first responders after obtaining freedom.

Because trafficked people often do not understand that what happened to them is a crime, their description of their victimization can be difficult to assess, especially when a first responder has not been trained to identify human trafficking. Many first responders note that, before they have learned more about human trafficking, victim stories may seem confusing and complex. It is essential that governments give trafficking victims a reasonable length of time to recover from the immediate trauma; individuals cannot be expected to self-identify or decide to cooperate with law enforcement in only a few short days, especially because they will typically still be in crisis for some time after their release. Instead, they should be accorded a period of time to overcome their immediate trauma and be able to make decisions about their lives. Foreign victims should not be returned to countries where they may face retribution or hardship. With trained personnel and sufficient time for victims to process their experiences, it becomes easier for law enforcement to get the full account of what victims’ experienced, resulting in better evidence and more successful prosecutions.

Legal Rights and Status

Defining someone as a victim of human trafficking under relevant law or regulation is not a pejorative label or a means of setting him or her apart from the rest of society. Foreign nationals who are identified as trafficking victims should be eligible for immigration relief that not only keeps them safe, but also allows them to choose the best next steps for themselves and their families. Victims are often not able to move beyond their victimization until threats to their safety and the safety of their family members have been resolved. In these situations, the only reasonable option for foreign trafficking victims may be to remain safely in the country where they were trafficked and where they have started on the path to recovery. Immigration remedies that allow foreign victims a pathway to permanent residence or citizenship, assuring their safety and enabling them to integrate more fully into their new community, are best practices. Repatriation should be an accessible option with support and referral services throughout the process. Yet it should only be considered after a determination of what is in the best interests of the victim, rather than a process that requires a summary decision that results in foreign trafficking victims being returned to their home countries.

If a victim of trafficking wishes to confront his or her abuser in court, the law should make that possible, with provisions not just for the criminal process, but the opportunity to seek civil remedies as well. If a victim wants to remain in the country, the process for obtaining residency or citizenship should not be delayed until the criminal process—if any—has run its course, and should not be conditioned on the success of the prosecution. Furthermore, if the victim wants to work, a criminal record that reflects crimes committed as a result of the trafficking or other legal obstacles to work authorization should not stand in the way. Laws should likewise provide mechanisms for survivors to seek and be awarded restitution and damages from their traffickers. Victims should also be provided the assistance and information they need to understand their rights. Most importantly, victim status should provide voluntary access to a full range of services that should be afforded by governments to allow survivors to restore their lives.


Governments that have put in place victim protection structures cannot idly wait for victims to come forward on their own to seek protection. It is true that some victims escape exploitation through their own courage and determination, but after clearing that hurdle, a victim does not usually know where to turn. He or she is unlikely even to know how to gain access to services from a complex government system, or to have knowledge that a victim referral mechanism exists. Many times, victims do not even know that the abuse they suffered is considered a crime; indeed, they may hide from authorities for fear of punishment, arrest, or deportation.

Traffickers commonly instill such fears in their victims to ensure continued subjugation.

As part of a comprehensive victim protection effort, governments have the responsibility to proactively identify victims and potential victims of trafficking. They have a responsibility to extricate victims from exploitation and, whenever possible, to prevent the crime from occurring in the first place. They have a responsibility to provide victims with the ability not only to leave servitude, but to reenter society as a free man, woman, or child with adequate tools to resume their lives and contribute positively to society.

This is no small task. It requires training, education, and, perhaps most challenging, a change in the way government officials look at vulnerable populations. The first government official a trafficking victim is likely to meet is not a lawmaker or diplomat, but rather a local police officer. If such officers are not trained to identify trafficking victims and understand the nuances of the crime, the victim will likely not be properly identified even if able to articulate his or her story. The services and support described in the pages of a national action plan or an official referral mechanism are irrelevant if the victim cannot first be properly identified and referred to services and protection.

Ultimately, if governments take proactive measures to look for human trafficking, they will find it. It is simply not plausible to claim that, because victims are not self-reporting, trafficking does not occur.

Making Migration Safe

Although not all trafficking involves migration, and not all migration is human trafficking, the vulnerabilities of migrants make them a tempting target for traffickers. From the young women of Indonesia who take significant risk to work as domestic servants in the Middle East, to Peruvian men migrating to the United States for work as sheep herders, labor forces are mobilizing as markets in every region of the world open. Such migration often occurs legally via bilateral labor agreements, and pursuant to national immigration provisions.

Migrant-sending countries experience the benefits of foreign exchange remittances. Remittances often finance homes, education for children, and medical care. The impact of remittances is readily visible and provides relief from poverty and unemployment. Yet governments in migrant-sending countries also see a darker side to labor migration: the enslavement of their citizens. Given the paucity of effective international norms on labor migration, the exploitation of workers is growing at an alarming rate. Recruiters, labor brokers, sponsors, and employers have found that they can abuse migrants. With little risk and with huge financial rewards, labor recruitment fraud often earns a guilty party little more than a fine (in the few countries that criminalize it). The practice of deceiving migrants into traveling abroad for work—including the prevalent requirement of large recruitment fees—is a high-profit form of exploitation in many major labor sending countries. In its 2009 study titled Cost of Coercion, the ILO estimated that up to $20 billion can be extorted annually from these workers worldwide.

No matter how well an individual country’s laws address the issue of human trafficking, the vulnerability of migrants highlights the necessity of international collaboration. Countries that rely on remittances from their citizens abroad must take steps to educate emigrants about the potential dangers and warning signs of trafficking and must ensure proper oversight of recruitment agencies that facilitate overseas employment. Receiving countries need to adopt policies that assist them in detecting whether foreign nationals immigrating for work may be vulnerable to trafficking and to develop methods of identifying those who may have already been victimized. In both cases, countries need to ensure that if and when repatriation is appropriate, victims can be safely reintegrated into their home countries.

Pre-departure briefings and hotlines are important, but must be judged by their results rather than their mere existence. A hotline without appropriate language capabilities, with limited hours, and with no effective services to which it can refer victims not only fails to protect victims, it also can create a false sense of accomplishment, as officials may believe that they have fulfilled their responsibilities merely by setting up the phone number. Moreover, in some destination countries, much of the victim care is provided in shelters run by sending countries’ embassies. This is laudable, but if those shelters are not linked to law enforcement in sending and receiving countries to ensure that abusers are brought to justice and victims empowered, there is little hope of turning the tide of vulnerability and exploitation of future migrants.

Some source country governments, alarmed by the growing number of their citizens ending up as trafficking victims in the labor export business, have taken steps that seek to prevent additional exploitation. Since the last TIP Report, the Philippine government began implementing its 2010 Migrant Labor Law, which requires that a labor market (destination country) be certified as providing minimum protections for foreign workers. The Indonesian government imposed restrictions on Indonesian women seeking to migrate to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Malaysia to work in domestic service given unacceptable levels of abuse already documented in these countries. Although well-intentioned, such efforts may drive migration to illegal channels, making those who migrate more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Moreover, such efforts can be thwarted by competing business interests, or competing labor exporting countries can quickly fill any need for exploitable workers.

There has been little commitment among major receiving states to address the excesses of their migrant worker programs—called “sponsorship systems” in the Middle East. Yet without the participation of destination countries, regional and international efforts on labor migration have been blunted in their effectiveness. Of note, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2008 initiated the Abu Dhabi Dialogue among migrant-labor sending and receiving states. Through the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, the governments seek to foster policies that offer greater transparency and protections for would-be migrants for labor source countries. But others in the region need to overhaul their sponsorship systems, as well as expand and improve efforts to protect these vulnerable workers. Other regional fora, such as Southeast Asia’s ASEAN, could take up the call for uniform, region-wide standards to protect the millions of Southeast Asian migrants originating or working within this region. Far greater commitment is needed among the governments of destination countries to work with source governments to promulgate meaningful standards to protect workers from slavery and ensure that those who exploit workers will face criminal justice. Without a much greater international commitment to addressing these issues, a new slave trade will continue to operate in the shadows of the global labor market.

Workplace Inspections: A Weak Link in Identifying Forced Labor

Government authorities’ inspections of formal worksites, such as factories or construction areas, can be effective in finding and liberating victims of forced child labor. Targeted inspection strategies can also incentivize businesses to adopt corporate social responsibility policies, and policies that adequately train inspectors can prove helpful in early identification of situations that may lead to labor exploitation. Such inspections, however, are less successful in identifying victims of forced labor. Key indicators of forced labor (such as psychological abuse and threats, coercion through threats of financial harm, or sexual abuse) can often only be identified once a victim establishes confidence in the interviewer. Building such confidence is difficult during a brief inspection of a workplace. Research on forced labor among migrant workers in East Asia and the Middle East has found that many workers face conditions of debt bondage and threats of abuse of the legal process, particularly by threat of arrest or deportation if they refuse to continue their work or service. With this in mind, many workers do not disclose their true conditions during standard labor inspections, which in most developing countries are usually conducted on premises and in the presence of management.

On the other hand, hotlines, counseling centers, or other avenues of recourse for migrant workers can serve as effective means for identifying victims of forced labor while offering them confidentiality. Labor unions play a deterrent role by helping ensure that exploitation does not occur in the first place, lessening the likelihood that unscrupulous managers will be able to take advantage of migrants and other workers vulnerable to abuse. A victim is much more likely to come forward once he or she is presented with credible alternatives to staying in the exploitative work environment, such as shelter, legal aid, and—perhaps most importantly—the possibility of receiving restitution or compensation for lost wages and abusive conditions.


Just as the international norms of protecting victims must be vigorously upheld, the practice of providing victim services must be simultaneously comprehensive and adaptable. Modern slavery takes many forms that require caregivers to provide services reflecting the unique experiences of each survivor. Even if two people endure identical abuse, they may have very different needs.

If shelters are to serve an integral role in a survivor’s recovery, they must be places of refuge, not detention centers. Some governments might opt to provide shelter to individual victims in temporary locations, such as rented apartments or hotels, rather than in a central, structured shelter. While that may be the most practical option, governments should recognize that the needs of survivors go well beyond a safe place to stay. They frequently require medical care and counseling, legal advice, and social services—not to mention the means to contact and reunify with their loved ones, if they so desire. Victim care must be designed to anticipate common needs, while responding in a way that is adaptable to each individual’s situation.

To create a victim services model that adequately supports survivors, governments must work proactively to adopt best practices and to develop new and innovative efforts. In countries where a robust civil society plays a key role in advocacy and the provision of services to victims, governments should forge partnerships to benefit from the expertise of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other victim services providers and advocates. Such activity should not be viewed as a way for governments to shift responsibility onto other parties, but instead as an opportunity to forge cooperative arrangements that will take full advantage of the resources and support structures available. Adequate and consistent funding for victim services is a persistent challenge that must be met with a commitment of all involved to work and innovate together.

Additionally, as modern slavery affects a wide range of government concerns, all relevant government agencies should work together to ensure streamlined and effective provision of victim services. If the agencies responsible for immigration, labor, and health care are not communicating, the ability to identify and rescue victims, and to offer efficient and flexible services, will be limited. And if the victim care regime inexorably moves the identified victim toward a preordained outcome of repatriation, the law enforcement mission will suffer as well because victims will be less willing or able to participate in prosecutions of traffickers.

Without the appropriation of adequate resources, a government’s approach to victim services can not be sufficiently effective, adaptable, or far-reaching. Around the world, a paucity of funding relative to the scale of the crime hinders those – both within and outside government – who strive to provide services to trafficking survivors. If governments and the international community are serious about making counter-trafficking efforts a priority, it is critical that service providers have the consistent resources and support they need to get the job done.

Law Enforcement – NGO Cooperation

When victims of trafficking are identified, they often have complex needs that cannot all be met by one person or agency. It is necessary that government officials and service providers work together to provide a full range of support, services, and protection. Law enforcement and other government officials should build relationships with NGOs through task forces and community partnerships in order to facilitate this collaboration. For example, if law enforcement officials conduct a raid, NGO partners can be on call to assist with housing support, case management, and medical care. Law enforcement officials and advocates can then work together to provide appropriate safety planning for an individual or group.

The following are areas where a victim may 
need support:

  • Protection from traffickers
  • Basic necessities, including food and clothing
  • Housing
  • Medical and mental health care
  • Legal services, including immigration and criminal justice advocacy
  • Assistance in accessing public benefits
  • Orientation to the local community, public transportation, and other life skills
  • Language skills training
  • Job training
  • Family reunification


Every country is affected by trafficking in persons, and while some countries in this Report have met the minimum standards, such an assessment does not mean a government has succeeded in eradicating modern slavery. Indeed, no country is doing enough to end it. As long as the people who survive this crime do not see their traffickers brought to justice and are not able to rebuild their lives, no government will be able to claim complete success in combating modern slavery.

The modern global abolitionist movement is less than a generation old. Success stories have shown us that survivors are eager to overcome their trauma. But to few victims are identified, not enough services are available to survivors, and too few traffickers receive criminal punishment. Many governments around the world have enacted anti-trafficking laws; the next steps in this struggle require governments to implement those laws broadly and effectively. Those who refuse to acknowledge the problem of trafficking are being overtaken by the chorus of governments, businesses, civil society, and men and women around the world who are calling for action and demanding progress in meeting the enormous challenge that remains.

Modern slavery is about people; and the way the world chooses to fight it must also be about people—restoring their hopes, their dreams, and most importantly, their freedom.