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Child Victims and Witnesses Support Materials

Human Trafficking: A Guide for Practitioners

A Guide for Practitioners

These materials were designed for youth aged 12−18 who have experienced sex and labor trafficking, to help inform and empower them as they navigate through the justice system.

Funded by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), these materials were created with the input of those with similar lived experiences, and expert practitioners working in the anti-trafficking field.

While the materials are intended to be relatable to the broadest possible audience, it’s important to acknowledge that every person has their own unique experience with trafficking and the justice system, so not every element of the materials will feel relevant to every young person, caregiver, or community.

For this reason, the materials are intended to be contextualized to better fit your jurisdiction, local culture, and community, so that they are as supportive, validating, and educational as possible.

How to Read the Materials

The materials include three short graphic novels (Sergio’s Story, Zoe’s Story, and Jamie’s Story), plus an accompanying booklet, titled What’s Going On?, that focuses on rights, roles, and responsibilities within the justice system.

Because not everyone is familiar with graphic novels, it may be helpful to explain the format to each young person before you begin reading.

Graphic novels are broken up into separate story frames or panels. A story frame is an individual drawing on a single section of the page, and each frame is separated by boxes. These frames are read in order from left-to-right like a traditional storybook and then top-to-bottom. The speech bubbles within each frame are most often read from left-to-right and then top-to-bottom, when applicable. See the graphic below for an example of two story frames from Sergio’s Story.

Story Frame

Some of the novels use different color schemes and time markers to indicate flashback scenes, where the story transitions from the present day to an event that occurred in the past.

How to Use the Materials

Here are some suggestions for how to use the materials most effectively:

  • Familiarize yourself with the materials first, before providing them to youth or caregivers.
  • Provide the materials to youth and their caregivers as early in the justice system process as possible, and regardless of what the case outcome might be.
  • If a youth has difficulty reading, either you or one of the other people working on their case, such as a therapist or advocate, can read the materials with them.
  • Regardless of a young person’s age, it is important that a trusted adult is available to help them understand what they are reading and provide emotional support.
  • Whenever possible, ensure that caregivers are provided with the materials first, so they are aware of the content and can be the primary support for their child during this process. It is beneficial for youth when their caregivers also learn about coping skills and how the justice system works.
  • The materials can be read in one sitting, or different sections can be used at different times, depending on a young person’s situation, their age, the stage of their case, and how they are feeling. For example, you may choose to use the story about labor trafficking only (Sergio’s Story) if a young person has had that experience. And you may want to refer to the What’s Going On? booklet for further information and explanations of different terms that are mentioned throughout the stories.
  • As you read each of the stories, you’ll come across activities along the way. Encourage youth to try the activities, because they teach coping skills that can help them (and maybe you!) de-stress. You can also use the activities as reminders to take a break and check in with the young person about how they’re feeling.
  • Be aware that youth can be triggered by anything that reminds them of the traumas they have experienced. If a young person becomes distressed at any time, it is okay (and helpful) to take a break, offer support, and practice coping skills like deep breathing together.
  • We encourage you to adjust the details of what happens in the story or use terms that make more sense in your community or local justice system as you discuss each story.
  • Ask youth questions to help connect the story to their feelings and experiences. Some examples: Zoe was frustrated when this happened—how do you think you would have felt if you were in the same situation? Writing in a journal helped Jamie to process their thoughts and feel better—what do you do that helps you feel better?
  • We recognize that all courtrooms look different; you may want to explain how your courtroom looks different than the diagram in the materials, compare a photo of your courtroom with the diagram, and/or show the young person and their caregiver the courtroom in person, if possible.
  • Consider keeping the materials in your office in case there is someone living in a young person’s home who should not have access to them, such as the trafficker.

Tips for Supporting Young Survivors

Here are some ways to support youth while using these materials, and as they go through this experience:

  • Let them know that it is okay to have strong feelings, or no feelings at all, and that there are things they can do to feel better.
  • Remind them that none of this is their fault.
  • Tell them that they are not the only one that has gone through this; other youth and families have had these experiences, too.
  • Remember to use language that young people can understand, especially when explaining the justice system. Ask youth (and adults) to repeat back the information in their own words, so you can assess if they understood fully.
  • Keep in mind that you may have to provide the same information multiple times and/or in multiple ways (e.g., verbally and in writing).
  • As much as you can, let youth (and adults) know what to expect each step of the way, so they can feel less anxious and more prepared.
  • Remind them that there are people who support them, such as family members, friends, caseworkers, advocates, therapists, and lawyers, and name these people together.
  • Make sure that youth and caregivers are aware of any resources they need now or may need in the future, including victim advocacy services and trauma-focused therapy.
  • Encourage youth and caregivers to ask as many questions as they’d like, and to express their thoughts and feelings to you, their caregivers, and other adults working on their case.
  • Provide youth the opportunity to make choices whenever possible, even about seemingly minor things such as where each person sits, when to take a break, which topic to discuss first, or which part(s) of the materials to work on each time you meet. This helps youth regain their sense of control and personal power.
  • Remind youth that they are strong and will get through this.