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Assessing Existing Awareness and Knowledge Gaps

Determining a target population requires an understanding of how human trafficking occurs in the given community. When possible, outreach methods and materials should be tailored to the type of trafficking, the human trafficking network, the culture, gender, age, language, and immigration status of the target population. When researching commercial sex and labor markets in your community, keep in mind the scope of your program.


Assessing needs:

Starting with a simple needs assessment is an easy way to identify the response gaps in a specific region. The U.S. Department of Justice has a helpful online guide to conducting a needs assessment here.

    Focus groups bring together service providers or members of the community you are trying to access. If you plan on conducting outreach to immigrants, develop a focus group that brings together community or religious figures from that population. Discuss linguistically and culturally appropriate outreach strategies and materials. Think through the type of trafficking that may exist, which partners should be included, who is doing what in the community, where the victims may be, and who else is doing similar work in the area.

    Community outreach can help you find clients and develop target areas of direct outreach. Educating groups, such health clinics, schools, faith-based organizations, culturally specific organizations, and other groups that a victim may reach out to initially when seeking assistance, can help generate awareness about your agency’s services throughout the community. After attending a training or a public awareness event, staff at these organizations may have information about suspected incidences trafficking in the community or among the population they work with. This information can help inform your outreach.

    Building relationships with other outreach programs and key stakeholders will help you develop your outreach program. There are numerous groups and organizations that conduct outreach to vulnerable populations; reach out to these groups to learn about what they do, gauge their willingness to include human trafficking into their current outreach program, or offer to partner with them. Law enforcement and other key stakeholders can also help develop an outreach program by informing groups on trends or "hot spots."

    In addition to learning from the community, research on your own. Research can include such activities as reviewing websites, news articles, and such things as online “John Boards” or internet forums where purchasers of commercial sex communicate with one another. In addition to this research and in consultation with law enforcement, drive to potential outreach locations. Learn about the area and watch for indicators of trafficking. Document all of this research, and use information gleaned to help determine safety protocols for the outreach workers and potential victims. Before reaching out to contacts found online or connecting with individuals who may be at risk or business owners who may be traffickers, it is important to consult with local law enforcement contacts and consider safety. Keep in mind the following:

    • What critical relationships need to be in place prior to conducting outreach?
    • What venue specific information or indicators should outreach staff be aware of?
    • What are the goals of the outreach?
    • How and when will outreach be conducted?
    • What is the exit plan for the outreach workers should the situation become unsafe?

Protocols that govern outreach activities:

Do as much planning and preparation in advance of conducting outreach; but often, agencies may not be able to develop a sustainable outreach plan until they perform direct outreach to their target population. Have periodic planning meetings to discuss successes and challenges to conducting direct outreach. Adjust your outreach plan accordingly. Before outreach, determine the following:

  • How will outreach staff get to the outreach location?
  • Is there an agency vehicle available for use?
    • If so, what protocols does your agency have in place for using this vehicle?
    • If not, is a volunteer or staff member planning on using their personal vehicle? Is there a plan for reimbursing transportation expenses? What are the stipulations of the car insurance policy?

    Before each outreach trip, come together as a group to relay instructions and guidelines for conducting outreach. As staff and volunteers become familiar with the location and the act of conducting outreach, these meetings may become brief. At these meetings, double check which materials are ready to be distributed, that phones are charged, the hotline is functional, and all other needed supplies are ready.

  • Each outreach worker should have designated roles and assignments. These roles and assignments can include driving, being a lookout, and taking notes.
  • Training is strongly recommended for all outreach staff, volunteers and interpreters, so they are aware of safety protocols, the overall outreach strategy, and their particular roles within the strategy.
  • Any outreach workers, volunteers or interpreters not employed by the agency should be vetted and trusted. If working with volunteers, have written volunteer agreements. Also consider confidentiality agreements.
  • Wear clothing that is not off-putting to the target population and appropriate for the setting.
  • Avoid open-toe shoes.
  • Consider bringing a bag or backpack to carry materials.
  • Avoid wearing expensive jewelry or watches.
  • Depending on the outreach situation, outreach workers may also want to avoid bringing wallets or purses with them.
    • The safety of the outreach workers and of the potential victims should be a priority.
    • Outreach workers should be aware of the following:
    • An exit strategy should the situation become unsafe
    • Their surroundings when conducting outreach
    • The verbal and non-verbal cues of the potential victim; are they speaking softly or not making eye contact?
    • A trafficker may be near by observing
    • De-escalation techniques
      • If an outreach worker encounters an individual who appears agitated or aggressive, the worker should have tools to de-escalate the situation and calmly leave. Sign of agitation can include: raised voice, rapid speech, shaking, fidgeting, excessive hand gestures, aggressive posture, and verbal abuse. The outreach worker should remain calm and maintain non-aggressive body language and a neutral tone as they exit the situation. To learn more about de-escalation techniques, please refer to the appendix.
    • If a potential trafficker or controller is present, the outreach workers should have strategies for managing the situation. Outreach workers in this situation should be vague about their purpose without being dishonest. The outreach workers may want to carry resources explaining their right to engage with at-risk populations, if relevant. Outreach workers should consider informing law enforcement of their intention to do outreach or be prepared to call if necessary.
      • The outreach worker should also consider how potential victims may view their actions. The outreach worker should avoid losing respect or credibility in front of the potential victim. In some situations, it may be better for the victim to have the outreach worker leave without engaging anyone and come back another time.
  • Communication between the outreach worker and the target individual can occur in a variety of different ways depending on the type of trafficking, location, venue, and safety considerations. On some occasions, the outreach worker may only be able to provide the potential victim an outreach card or another small item with the hotline number on it. On other occasions, the outreach worker and the potential victim may be able to have a conversation about their working conditions and their needs. In some settings where the potential victim may be overheard or in initial encounters, it may be more appropriate to be indirect and vague about the services provided by the outreach agency; in other circumstances, it may be more appropriate to be direct. However, it may not be appropriate to do either due to a lack of safety.
  • In some situations, it may not be appropriate or safe for the outreach worker to offer their name; the outreach worker may want to choose a nickname or a pseudonym in those settings. The outreach worker should not impersonate law enforcement or government officials.
  • If the outreach worker does encounter law enforcement or government officials, the outreach worker should cooperate fully and be candid about performing outreach.
  • If the outreach worker encounters a potential controller, they should consider safety, de-escalate the confrontation, and walk away.
  • Outreach workers should consider working in teams.
  • Outreach workers should maintain a professional demeanor.
  • Outreach workers should document each encounter and note as much information about the visit as possible. In many situations, it would not be appropriate to take these notes while talking with an individual as that individual may find it uncomfortable or would view it suspiciously. In those circumstances, the outreach worker should write down notes from the encounter after the outreach worker is out of sight of the individual.
  • Prior to performing outreach, the program or agency should determine what information they need to collect from the outreach, as these records can help develop further outreach protocols, provide better services, and illustrate any trends in human trafficking.