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Victim-Centered Criminal Justice: Improvements to Federal Guidelines for Prosecutors

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Testimony from victims of crime is often the key to the successful prosecution of any crime. But that success can come at a significant cost to the victims themselves, who have to repeatedly relive some of the most painful or scary moments of their lives. The situation is even more difficult for victims of human trafficking, who often have complex emotional ties to the trafficker. 

That’s why Polaris worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that the particular needs of victims of human trafficking were taken into account in its latest guidelines for how federal prosecutors work with victims of crime. 

The new guidelines offer a more trauma-informed, victim-centered approach that recognizes the complex nature of trafficking. 

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Among the key improvements:

  • Restitution: The new guidelines clarify that restitution is mandatory when traffickers are convicted – including to victims of sex trafficking, who are entitled to what the trafficker gained by selling them.
  • Emotional harm: Prosecutors and others in the federal system working with trafficking survivors should assume that the survivors experienced emotional harm and make accommodations/seek services and support for the victim accordingly. 
  • Safety plans: In the aftermath of criminal proceedings, whether or not cases go to trial, federal offices must ensure that plans are made to ensure the safety of victims of human trafficking, much as they are for victims of crimes, such as domestic violence. 

A significant portion of Polaris’s work focuses on helping financial institutions to understand patterns of how trafficking may show up in their customer data as other crimes, such as fraud and money laundering.

This work gives law enforcement another avenue to pursue traffickers and hold them accountable without relying on testimony from their victims. 

Of course, that is not always possible, and holding traffickers accountable can be an important part of the healing journey for some survivors. Polaris is glad that the U.S. Department of Justice has recognized the unique situations trafficking survivors, who are also witnesses in criminal cases, can find themselves in and work to ensure they have the support they need. 

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.