Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Report

The Need for Interagency Coordination

While many see the concept of partnership as being between governments and outside actors such as business, academia, NGOs, or others, perhaps the most effective partnerships in fighting trafficking are those within governments. The interlocking “3P” paradigm drives the imperative for a highly coordinated counter-trafficking response and collaboration among and within governments, local communities, and international bodies. Such responses must begin in each country, with national coordination directed and overseen by heads of state, cabinet members, and ministerial leaders.

Men, women, and children are enslaved in every country in fields, factories, brothels, and homes. Many who suffer under slavery-like conditions may not even consider themselves victims. Given the diversity of victims’ experiences, a variety of government actors may come into contact with trafficking victims, from firefighters or police to labor inspectors, healthcare workers, educators, and immigration officials. Once identified, victims may need assistance from several different agencies to ensure that their needs — shelter, protection, health care, legal assistance, and immigration status — are met. Successful prosecutions will require that victims’ needs are met by the responsible agencies and that relevant law enforcement actors coordinate with each other. In short, an effective response is one that is well-coordinated among many different parts of government.

Interagency coordination picks up where the enactment of legislation leaves off. A new anti-trafficking law must be both implemented and improved and modified in subsequent years to address newfound enforcement or protection gaps as well as emerging best practices. Interagency coordination within a central government can help ensure that implementation is effective and efficient. A coordinating body operating at the cabinet or ministerial level is in a position to organize a whole-of-government effort to achieve results in combating trafficking on all fronts, such as coordination in training of government personnel, consistent public messaging, and protection of victims that ensures they are not inappropriately penalized. Ministries or agencies with relevant responsibilities include not only criminal law enforcement agencies, but also those mandated to oversee civil enforcement, labor policy, victim outreach and services, public awareness, education and child safety, trade policy, women’s issues, international development and foreign assistance, immigration policy, intelligence, and foreign policy.

Multilevel coordination between the central government and sub-national or local-level governments also is critical. Forms of viable coordination may depend on the size of a particular state, the extent of decentralization, and the resources that are available. States should consider mapping organizational charts of all government agencies that may come into contact with victims or perpetrators during the course of their regular duties. Data on human trafficking should be gathered nationwide and across different levels of government, and training should be made available vertically to ensure that state and local authorities are familiar with national programs that can benefit victims.

The Value of Partnering with NGOs

NGOs offer care to trafficking victims, referrals for law enforcement, and feedback on government policies. Despite their tremendous value as a partner in combating human trafficking, and despite the tendency of many governments to outsource victim care responsibilities to NGOs, governments often fail to support NGOs financially, do not trust them to participate in legal processes, and exclude them from anti-trafficking efforts.

Financial support of NGOs is necessary because governments are often not in the best position to offer the range of services that victims require. NGOs can be ideal partners for addressing gaps in protection, which may include victim shelters, legal aid related to immigration status, and counseling services. NGOs, however, should not be expected to carry the financial burden of a government’s protection response. Financial support for NGOs can demonstrate a government’s commitment to protection by increasing the availability of services offered. This support, in turn, enables victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions that enhance law enforcement efforts.

Unfortunately, governments are often wary of NGO partnerships. Distrust of NGOs might stem from a misunderstanding or ignorance of the work of NGOs, a prior unfavorable incident, or simply the absence of previous cooperation. It may reflect a generalized suspicion that civil society groups focused on caring for vulnerable populations may evolve into advocates for voting rights or democratic reforms, or it may stem from a desire to de-fund groups affiliated with previous leaders, the political opposition, or disfavored ethnic or religious populations.

Increased communication and concerted efforts to build relationships around concrete cases can help to overcome such barriers. The lasting partnerships that result serve both the interest of the state in pursuing criminal cases and keeping the peace, and the interest of the victims in obtaining justice, and regaining respect and a means of support. Once governments recognize the true value of NGOs, it is often easier to forge new relationships.

NGOs contribute to counter-trafficking efforts in the following primary ways:

Services. Trafficking victims require assistance provided by a range of professionals including medical and mental health physicians, social workers, lawyers, and interpreters. A comprehensive response will include assessing and providing for any needs including physical and mental health care, food, shelter, clothing, safety planning, immigration assistance, criminal defense, repatriation, family reunification, job skills training, employment placement, victim advocacy, translation, and interpretation.

Referrals. NGOs are often trusted community-based organizations that are known by at-risk populations to be safe places. Victims often come to NGOs before law enforcement. For that reason, NGOs can be good sources of case referrals for human trafficking investigations. If NGOs have seen trafficking victims deported, detained, interrogated, or otherwise treated inappropriately, however, they will not counsel victims to report to law enforcement. Indeed, they may instead become a sort of modern Underground Railroad, helping their clients in the shadows rather than bringing them forward to face a hostile governmental reaction. Ideally, NGOs and law enforcement will foster mutually trusting relationships in which referrals are made both ways.

Feedback. Over the last decade, governments have created legal frameworks and structures to combat trafficking. In many cases, NGOs at the grassroots level are the ones working with the structures and policies created by governments, so they know the advantages of them as well as the challenges to them. They are, therefore, an excellent source of information to improve government response. Their feedback on proposals can be valuable to successful implementation and continued NGO support. NGO advocacy sometimes can reveal uncomfortable truths, but it also can pressure legislative bodies and executives to respond to modern slavery by empowering and elevating government agencies.

Information. NGOs are often in the best position to identify trends that are helpful to evaluate and respond to the changing nature of human trafficking. For example, if there is a sudden influx of children from a particular country, or if the majority of cases are men in construction, or if there is a great need for legal services that is unmet, NGOs can contribute this valuable information to law enforcement and policy responses.