The U.S. State Department has released its annual “Trafficking in Persons” (Tip) Human Traffickingreport, used to not only further educate people about global human trafficking, but to identify countries where trafficking is most problematic. The report gives each nation a “tiered” rating. Tier 1 countries are those that fully comply with international laws and standards of the the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Tier 2 nations are on a watch list as they are making efforts to comply with the Act, but are still struggling with full compliance. Tier 3 countries make no effort to comply with this international standard.

According to The Guardian, the Tip report is used in various ways; NGOs use the report to engage law-makers to help improve a nation’s tiered ranking.

David Batstone, the chief executive of anti-slavery organisation Not For Sale also points out that savvy groups working in-country should see opportunities in using the Tip report as a way to engage governments and state authorities in taking preventative action to avoid bad rankings.

“It’s often not enough to say to governments ‘you should be doing this because it’s the right thing to do'”, he says. “Another approach is saying, “If you engage with us on this issue, we can work together on helping you ensure that you get a good Tip assessment. Governments do not want a bad showing in the Tip report, so targeted strategies looking at how they can work on their anti-trafficking programmes using Tip as a framework will often have more of an impact.”

The Tip report notes an alarming new trend in human trafficking: “numerous non-state armed groups abducting, recruiting, and exploiting children as combatants, porters, spies, and for sex” in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

Another challenge faced in the effort to stop human trafficking is that those being trafficked are often treated as criminals rather than victims. This is especially true of those who are forced into the sex trade. On-going education of  law enforcement is necessary to help identify victims of trafficking, not only so that victims can receive necessary assistance, but that prosecution of criminals can take place.

Treated as criminals, victims can be traumatized by placement in jail and will be less effective witnesses. Further, if victims are treated as criminal and deported they will be unable to support the investigation. This all-too-common practice suppresses the best evidence of trafficking and gets rid of the evidence— undermining prosecutions and often fatally compromising the government’s ability to prosecute a case successfully. Treating victims as what they are, not as criminals, is at the heart of the victim-centered approach to combating trafficking.

The Polaris Project, based in Washington, DC, is one organization that combats trafficking globally. One victim, “Natalia”, was promised an education and instead was hidden from the world in servitude:

Born and raised in a small village in Ghana, Natalia’s family was struggling to pay the school fees for their children’s education and welcomed the opportunity for Natalia to receive an education in the United States.

Shortly after she arrived in the US, the father she was living with began to physically and sexually abuse the young girl, creating a constant environment of fear for Natalia. For the next six years she was forced to clean the house, wash clothes, cook, and care for their three children, often working 18 hours a day while receiving no form of payment.  She was never allowed to enroll in school as the family had promised, go outside, or even use the phone.  One day, after she was severely beaten, Natalia saw an opportunity to run away from the home and a neighbor called the police. She was then taken to a local hospital for medical care.  The nurse assisting Natalia was aware of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and referred her to Polaris Project New Jersey.

Using tools such as the Tip report will give NGOs and law enforcement agencies current information to combat trafficking, aid victims and prosecute traffickers, while raising public awareness.