National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families

Partner Highlight: OTIP Takes Comprehensive Approach to Combat Human Trafficking

Campaign logo with the text Human Trafficking: Look Beneath the Surface

The Office of Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is dedicated to preventing and ending human trafficking. OTIP assists trafficking survivors and victims through the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and provides federal funding to community organizations who fight trafficking and deliver comprehensive case management services. Resources like the Toolkit for Building Survivor-Informed Organizations and efforts like Look Beneath the Surface Campaign also help to increase awareness of trafficking in communities nationwide. The National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center (NHTTAC) delivers training and technical assistance and identifies the promising practices for combating human trafficking.

The National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families (NCHYF) spoke to OTIP Director Katherine Chon about the overlap between homelessness and human trafficking, OTIP resources available, and how professionals serving these communities can work together to help all young people.

NCHYF: How does OTIP fit into the larger federal effort to reduce and prevent youth homelessness?

KATHERINE CHON: In three different ways. First, we work with runaway and homeless youth (RHY) organizations like My Life, My Choice, to raise awareness of human trafficking in their communities with grant funding through the Look Beneath the Surface campaign. Second, OTIP grantees that assist trafficking victims often work with local community partners including RHY-serving organizations. And third, we provide training and technical assistance to service providers and that includes RHY-serving organizations.

NCHYF: How do you discuss trafficking and RHY in a training capacity?

KC: We have a number of resources through NHTTAC, including a toolkit for how organizations can be more trauma- and survivor-informed when doing this work. We also provide training modules through our SOAR Online, which teaches professionals skills to identify and respond to signs of human trafficking. Some of these modules are relevant to RHY, and organizations can also request specific trainings from NHTTAC.

We partnered with the Administration for Native Americans to develop and disseminate a Tribal Youth Toolkit, since these young people are disproportionately at risk for homelessness and trafficking.

In our training, we refer to different research reports that connect the dots between RHY and human trafficking. In sex trafficking of minors, a minor is identified as a victim of sex trafficking any time he or she is asked or made to perform a commercial sex act, regardless of whether the minor was compelled or forced to comply. The Street Outreach Program report from 2016 found that about 36 percent of the 873 RHY who answered had traded sex for money, a place to stay, or another need, which is an element of sex trafficking. Therefore, RHY under the age of 18 who trade sex for something of value are considered victims of domestic sex trafficking.

For this reason, we also produce materials for young people who are at risk. We strive to ensure that everyone knows about the National Human Trafficking Hotline including its text and online chat functions. Our newest round of Look Beneath the Surface public awareness products includes posters and brochures for different populations, as well as a few aimed directly at youth. One example is a pocket card with indicators of human trafficking and the Hotline contact information. Another is a sticker that showcases the Hotline text function that provides at-risk youth with multiple ways to contact the hotline for help.

NCHYF: What are the demographics of the people that OTIP typically helps?

KC: Human trafficking impacts a wide range of demographics and populations. We work with adults and children, men and women, boys and girls, and across the age span. We work with victims of labor trafficking as well as sex trafficking, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. But we know that some populations are at higher risk according to research. Young people that are disconnected from their family, for example, or those that have been displaced by a natural disaster can experience exploitation. Exposure to familial or community violence is another important risk factor. We do our best to recognize that human trafficking could happen to anyone, but certain populations are at higher risk.

NCHYF: How can RHY service providers assist your work, and vice versa?

KC: RHY service providers are in a position where they are likely to come across youth survivors of trafficking or young people who are at risk. They can have a role in prevention and early intervention if they are able to identify signs of human trafficking and provide trauma-informed services. RHY service providers can also help increase awareness of trafficking topics among the youth they serve, including the common tactics that traffickers use, how to develop resiliency skills, and how to contact the Hotline. Young people can access help by calling or texting the Hotline or by reaching out through online chats. Younger people tend to prefer texting and chatting modes which allow for more discretion and anonymity.

Furthermore, foreign national minors in the United States who have been subjected to severe forms of trafficking are eligible for certain benefits and services under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. HHS Interim Assistance and Eligibility Letters allow minors who may have or have experienced human trafficking to apply for the same benefits and services available to refugees if they meet certain eligibility requirements. Youth-serving agencies and providers who have concerns that a foreign national minor may have experienced trafficking can submit a Request for Assistance to OTIP.

If you or someone you know may have experienced forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is there to help – visit the website, call 1-888-373-7888, TTY 711, or text 233733.

About Partner Highlights

The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) is part of a network of federal agencies and offices working to improve the lives of young people facing issues such as homelessness, justice system involvement, access to education, and human trafficking. This series of Partner Highlights explores how FYSB partner agencies support and complement FYSB’s vision of a future in which all our nation’s youth, individuals, and families can live healthy, productive, violence-free lives.