Deliberating at a Crossroads: Sex Trafficking Victims’ Decisions About Participating in the Criminal Justice Process

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Following the trauma associated with being exploited in the commercial sex industry, sex trafficking victims are faced with the decision of whether or not to cooperate with criminal justice authorities in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. This Article comprehensively explores the contours of this decisionmaking process with primary, empirical research conducted with victims themselves. The study utilized in-depth, qualitative research methods with a sample of thirty-nine female sex trafficking victims in the Netherlands, most of whom are from common “source” countries for human trafficking. The data reveal that victims often engage in a complex balancing of various factors weighing in favor of and against participating in the criminal justice process prior to finalizing their decisions, which challenges stereotypes of trafficking victims as simple-minded, “passive objects.” The most salient factors emerging from the data were retribution for harms inflicted by their traffickers, fear of their traffickers and/or their traffickers’ associates (primarily fear of retaliation), and a desire to prevent the victimization of others. This Article situates the different factors emerging from the data both within the landscape of empirical research with similar populations and within the broader socio-legal context, highlighting structural constraints on victims’ exercise of agency within the decision-making process. In doing so, it underscores the indispensability of victims’ perspectives in realizing a victim-centered, human rights-based approach to human trafficking