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POP Center Home Problems Trafficked Women 2nd Ed. Page 2

Understanding Your Local Problem

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The information provided above is only a generalized description of the exploitation of trafficked women. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem, especially the cultural issues that may face potential victims in your area. Carefully analyzing the local problem will help you design a more effective response strategy. The most difficult problem you will face is the clandestine nature of the exploitation of trafficked women, which is made possible by the isolation and separation of trafficked women from the local community. In the case of forced labor, the locations and situations of trafficked women will be hard to uncover, especially in the case of domestic servitude, which occurs within families that have, by right and tradition, a measure of privacy and separation from government. In the case of the sex trade, although trafficked women are hidden from public view, there is one point of weakness: sex traffickers must break the isolation they maintain in order for their trafficked women to service their customers. In fact, prostitutes are often hidden in plain view; their presence is usually well known in a local community. However, the public may not recognize or know that they are also trafficked women.

Asking the Right Questions 

Some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular trafficking problem are listed below. The answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on. The main challenge is to locate the businesses and venues where trafficked women are hidden and to identify which women are trafficked and which are not. This may be particularly difficult in regard to prostitution, because many prostitutes are coerced either into or as part of their working conditions and may also be domestically trafficked. 

Police and Community Awareness 

  • Are police aware of the problem of trafficked women?
  • Is the community aware of the problem of trafficked women?
  • Is there an active sex trade in your jurisdiction? If so, what forms does it take? Street prostitution? Escort services? Brothels, massage parlors, strip clubs, late night bars? Are foreign women encountered in brothel raids?
  • How much of the local sex trade involves recent immigrants or ethnic communities?
  • Is there a hidden or rumored sex trade? Are there known telephone numbers and addresses?
  • Is there a drug trade linked to the sex trade or to a particular locality?
  • Are there local businesses that benefit from the sex trade or forced labor? Employment agencies? Garment industry? Bars and strip clubs? Nail salons? Hotels?
  • Are there community organizations that specialize in caring for immigrants?
  • Are there known smuggling operations, routes or entry points in or close to your locality?
  • Does your department formally recognize the immigrant community and its problems? Have you attempted to develop collaborative partnerships to deal with such problems?
  • If there is a red-light district? What are business and community attitudes toward it?
  • Do local employers typically report job applicants who attempt to obtain work without proper documentation? 


  • Do brothels advertise very young prostitutes with exotic foreign characteristics, and at very low prices?
  • How do brothel owners market their services? Phone numbers? Yellow pages? Word of mouth? Solicitations in bars and strip clubs? Street corner pimps?
  • Are any labor-intensive products manufactured in your area?
  • Do advertisements in local newspapers and magazines offer menial jobs at unrealistically high wages? Are there notices or advertisements in ethnic media?
  • Are there local websites or chat rooms that deal with sexual services?
  • Do advertisements for mail order brides appear in local newspapers and magazines, local free or community papers? Do the ads promise foreign women?
  • Do escort services advertise in the yellow pages? On the Internet? In other media? Does your agency monitor them?
  • Does the sports page of the local newspaper advertise massage parlors? 


  • Do massage parlors and brothels constantly move to different locations? What kinds of buildings or housing do they occupy?
  • Are there locations where bars or sexually oriented businesses cater to a particular immigrant or ethnic community?
  • Are there locations where legal businesses (massage parlors, nail salons) may be fronts for sex trafficking?
  • Are there farms that require low paid workers or seasonal labor? How do they find and recruit their workers?
  • Are there sweatshops in your area? Is there a garment district?
  • Are there industrial based businesses that employ low paid workers and how do they recruit them?
  • Are there employment agencies in your area? Do they place persons of foreign birth? Into what kinds of jobs? Do they place individuals who speak little English?
  • Are there travel agencies that promote matchmaking or sexual tourism?
  • Are there dating or escort services in your area that offer women of foreign birth?
  • Are there massage parlors in your area? If so, are they licensed or supervised by local health authorities?
  • Does your jurisdiction contain a run-down warehouse or manufacturing district?
  • Are there suburbs where domestic servants are routinely employed?
  • Is tourism a major business in your jurisdiction? Are there hotels, motels, or restaurants that suddenly appear to be employing foreign women as maids, waitresses, or kitchen help?
  • Do certain employers recruit workers from local homeless shelters? Are homeless persons transported to remote locations to work?
  • Are there bus stations where runaway teenaged girls tend to congregate? 

Incidents, Offenders, and Victims 

  • Have prostitutes been assaulted or murdered? If so, were they foreign-born?
  • Are there cases of drug use or dealing involving foreign women? Does drug dealing occur in locations close to areas where the sex trade is plied?
  • Are there local prostitutes who are unable to speak English?
  • Are prostitutes typically drug users?
  • Do hospitals report battered women who may be illegal immigrants?
  • Are there local or ethnic healthcare providers who are “off-line” from the normal healthcare system? [45]
  • What information is collected by officers and others concerning prostitutes? Is background information collected, such as age, country or place of birth, and where and how they were recruited?
  • What pricing system is employed in brothels? How much are prostitutes paid?
  • Who are the pimps and brothel managers? Where do they come from?
  • What are the backgrounds of the purchasers of sex? How do they find their “partners”? How do they reach the venue? Walk from local hotels? Drive from suburbs?
  • Are other crimes reported in the areas where prostitution or forced labor are located?
  • Are undocumented migrants frequent robbery victims?
  • Do incidents of domestic violence occur where the wife is an immigrant?
  • Do local domestic violence shelters care for immigrant victims?

Current Responses to the Exploitation of Trafficked Women† 

  • What is your departmental policy for dealing with prostitution? What is the prosecutor's policy regarding prostitution-related offenses? What are the typical sentences handed out to those who are convicted? Do prostitutes and their clients complete those sentences? What effect, if any, does the imposition of a sentence have on subsequent involvement in prostitution?
  • What responses do police officers use, other than arrest and prosecution? Are any of these responses effective?
  • Are social, healthcare, or substance abuse treatment services available to prostitutes? Do prostitutes use these services?
  • What is your departmental policy on reporting illegal immigrants to immigration and customs officials?
  • Are specific officers allocated to identify trafficked women?
  • Do you have sufficient access to interpreters and cultural advisors?‡
  • Is there a special vice squad? What are its duties?
  • Are assault cases and domestic violence situations considered as possible crime scenes in which human trafficking may be the real offense being perpetrated?
  • Have your victim service specialists been trained about human trafficking? Are they called to potential human trafficking crime scenes? Are they present when potential human trafficking victims are interviewed?
  • What foreign language capabilities does your unit have? Are there local universities, military personnel, or immigrant advocacy groups that could assist you with translation needs?

 † See Problem-Oriented Guide No. 2, Street Prostitution, for additional questions that may also be relevant to women trafficked into the sex trade.

‡ See the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office for Minority Health for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) standards at http://www.omhrc.gov/assets/pdf/checked/finalreport.pdf 

Measuring Your Effectiveness 

Measurement will allow you to determine the degree to which your efforts have been successful and can also suggest how your responses can be modified to produce the intended results. Measuring the extent of your problem before you implement remedial responses will allow you to determine how serious the problem is; it will also give you a baseline against which to measure the effectiveness of the responses that you choose to implement. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems. 

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to the problem of the human trafficking of women. Their utility, however, will depend upon the specific conditions in your locality, and especially upon the particular aspect of trafficking that you choose to focus upon. For example, if you decide to focus on separating trafficked women from their handlers, the number of foreign women in the sex trade will probably drop. Your follow-up should show that these women have not been trafficked elsewhere and have been provided with the protections afforded them under TVPA. 

  • Reduced number of trafficked women in the sex trade. Your initial success should uncover significant numbers of trafficked women. Your subsequent success should see a rapid decline in the numbers of trafficked women in the sex trade.
  • Increased number of trafficked women seeking help at health facilities and other community care groups, churches, or domestic violence shelters. Over time, this figure should decrease as fewer women require help.
  • Reduction or elimination of brothels.
  • Reduced number of escort services, massage parlors, and other fronts for the sex trade.
  • Reduced number of rentals of local warehouses and run-down office buildings.
  • Reduced total reported crime in target areas, compared to control areas. Keep in mind that changes may be due to other factors and that reported crime does not always correlate with actual crime.
  • Reduced number of undocumented migrants employed in businesses.
  • Reduced number of advertisements for domestic help.
  • Reduced number of drug offenses in the area near the sex trade.
  • Reduced number of assaults against women reported in local emergency rooms.
  • Reduced number of domestic abuse cases that involve non-English speaking women.

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