By Katie Crank, Center for Court Innovation
- the philosophy and goals of community court and specialized docket approaches for addressing human trafficking;
- the features of the Midtown Community Court, New York approach and its applicability to other jurisdictions;
- the features of the New Castle County, Delaware and Queens County, New York specialized docket approaches and their applicability to other jurisdictions;
- the role of the court in prosecutor led responses to human trafficking; and
- the general lessons learned so far from the community court and specialized docket experiences.
In recent years, staff in many community courts and specialized dockets have been developing an expertise in identifying trafficking victims and responding to their needs by connecting them to social services and other supports. Unlike victims of labor trafficking, whose work may not be in and of itself illegal, victims of sex trafficking are often induced to engage in illegal activities and therefore are more likely to be arrested and treated as criminals.
One common query from jurisdictions interested in improving their response to trafficking is whether or not the level of services or intervention differs based on whether or not a defendant/victim fits the federal or state definition of a “trafficking victim.” The answer is no. Underlying all of the examples below is an assumption that each defendant with prostitution or related charges should be offered the same degree of service; even if a defendant does not meet the legal standard for sex trafficking, she or he has still potentially experienced trauma. Further, a common goal is to help prevent defendants from cycling through the justice system, and the approaches described below may help victim-defendants find safe pathways out of the sex trade, potentially avoiding future re-arrests and jail time. Following are several examples of ways in which courts can better respond to victims of sex trafficking.