15 January, 2015 (Date Pending)


The victim identification process involves many actors and may include a great variety of law enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations involved in victim support, health care institutions, etc. In order to achieve effective victim identification, actors should be trained accordingly and effective information-sharing networks should be operated.

Front Line Staff

Front line staff are those officers (such as border guards, immigration officers), labour inspectors, NGO support providers, health care providers, social workers who first come into contact with presumed trafficking victims and are able to refer the victim to the appropriate safeguarding networks.

NGOs, Social Care Providers, Churches

Trafficking victims feel reluctant to seek help from authorities. Their perceptions are influenced by experiences (from authorities, the traffickers) mostly in their country of origin. Due to the fear of authorities, the role of NGOs, social care providers and churches in support provision is crucial.

Victims are likely to contact these organizations directly. Many victims attend drop in centers at NGOs, social care services and/or churches and access help personally. Relatives, friends of victims may as well contact these centers for information, advice, and help.

Hotlines and helplines operated by these organizations also receive calls seeking help.

Social workers, pastors, priests and volunteers are invaluable sources of support that can be directly accessed by victims. They guarantee confidentiality and take great care not to compromise the safety of those they support. They collaborate with other organizations and agencies to ensure that the victims’ needs are adequately met.

Although trafficking victims do not generally consider themselves as ‘victims,’ NGOs, social care providers and churches have extensive experience of victim identification. Their personal relationship with the clients often leads to the willingness to testify in court.

Border Guards

Trafficking victims may enter Hong Kong


  • presenting their genuine passports; or
  • as undocumented migrants presenting stolen or forged documents.

Victims are likely to have been coached with a story to tell the authorities at the border.



They may act as if instructed by someone and knowledge gaps are very common in such cases. According to the US Department of State Trafficking In Persons Report3 Hong Kong is a destination and transit territory. Therefore, border officials should bear in mind that they may also encounter trafficking victims while trying to leave Hong Kong.

Almost all estimates of the scale of trafficking are based on statistics relating to the numbers of illegal migrants intercepted while being trafficked across borders. A major problem is distinguishing between trafficked and non-trafficked illegal migrants.4


Trafficking victims are often identified pursuant to a police investigation. 


Often, victims are also identified:


  • through the investigation of other crimes associated with human trafficking, such as prostitution, fraud, pimping, violation of labour laws, money laundering;
  • by certain sectors’ (construction, manufacturing) supervision;
  • during vice raids;
  • following anonymous tip-offs;5 and
  • during regular patrolling.

Immigration Services

As the authority issuing visas, immigration services may also encounter victims. Therefore, immigration officers should be aware of their applicants’ overall behavior:


  • How does the client talk?
  • Does he/she seem coached by someone?
  • Is he/she alone during the interview?

When issuing foreign domestic helper (FDH) visas, immigration officers should take into consideration the possibility of various trafficking scenarios such as forced labour, debt bondage, servitude and sexual exploitation.

FDH’s visa extensions are often to resolve legal disputes with employers/agencies. These may also indicate the possibility of forced labour.

Health Care Providers

Health care providers are often the only professionals to interact with trafficking victims who are still in captivity. Given the lack of independent movement of victims, health care professionals should be aware that victims are often accompanied by another person often the pimp.

It is a general phenomenon that trafficking victims receive medical care on an emergency basis only. They often do not have timely access to health care, and by the time they reach a clinician it is likely that health problems are well advanced.

Common health problems amongst trafficking victims include:6


  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Cigarette burns
  • Complications from unsafe abortion
  • Contusions
  • Depression
  • Fractures
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Headaches
  • Oral health problems
  • Pelvic pain
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Suicidal feelings
  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Vaginal pain

Labour Inspectors
Labour inspectors examine work conditions and the protection of workers while engaged in their work such as working hours, wages, safety, health and welfare, the employment of children and young persons. Inspectors may enter freely at any time of the day or night any workplace liable to inspection without prior notice, and are able to speak privately with persons on site.

Inspectors should be able to distinguish poor working conditions from forced labour using certain indicators:7


  • Does the worker show any signs of mistreatment, mental confusion, anxiety?
  • Do supervisors/employers demonstrate violent behavior?
  • Is the worker locked up at the workplace?
  • Is the worker forced to sleep at the workplace?
  • Does the worker make statements that are incoherent or show indoctrination by the employer?
  • Are workers forced to work excessive (unpaid) overtime or to carry out tasks that they prefer not to do, and are the workers threatened if they refuse?
  • Does the worker have to repay high recruitment or transportation fees? If so, are these deducted from the salary?
  • Is the worker forced to pay excessive fees for accommodation, food or working tools that are directly deducted from the salary?
  • Are work permits tied to a specific employer? Has there been any complaint about the employer before?
  • Does the worker have a regular employment contract?
  • Has the worker received any wage at all?
  • Do the workers have access to their earnings?
  • Are wages paid on a regular basis?
  • Is the worker in possession of his identification documents?

Actors Of The Criminal Justice System

Actors of the criminal justice system are:



  • Prosecutors
  • Defense lawyers
  • Judiciary
  • Interpreters
  • Prison staff



These actors may encounter trafficking victims during civil/criminal procedures. In most cases trafficking victims appear as offenders in violation of immigration and/or criminal laws. Nevertheless, these offenders show certain signs of behavioral disorders resulting from their experiences as victims:


  • fear of authorities
  • signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • lack of understanding of their victimhood
  • complex relationships with the trafficker

Any suspicion of trafficking must be reported and investigated without delay and the victim must be subjected to a needs assessment.


Consular staff may come into contact with human trafficking via:8


  • local authorities, NGOs seeking information in relation to a particular trafficking case or consulate staff might be assisting police with their investigations;
  • direct/indirect call for help from victims. Victims might contact their consulates/ embassies for assistance either themselves or through family and friends;
  • people seeking other form of assistance (i.e. issuance of a new passport, assistance to travel home);
  • other nationalities’ visa applications.


End Notes:


1 Suzanne Hoff, The role of NGOs in combating human trafficking and supporting (presumed) trafficked persons, Council of Europe, Project on Combating and Preventing Trafficking in Human Beings in Azerbaijan 2011, pp. 3-4, available at

http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/cooperation/economiccrime/trafficking/Projects/THB Azerbaijan/REPORT_HOFF.pdf.


2 Home Office, Victims of Human Trafficking – guidance for frontline staff, 2013, pp. 18, 34, 35.

3 US Department of State, Trafficking In Persons Report 2013.

4 IOM, Migrant Trafficking and Human Smuggling in Europe, 2000, pp. 80-82.

5 The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Trafficking in Human Beings: Identification of Potential and Presumed Victims, 2011, p. 46.



6 Tiffany Dovydaitis, Human Trafficking: The Role of the Health Care Provider, Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 2010 Sep-Oct, available at


7 ILO, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking, Handbook for Labour Inspectors, 2008, pp. 18-20.



8 Council of the Baltic Sea States, Handbook for Diplomatic and Consular Personnel on how to Assist and Protect Victims of Human Trafficking, 2011, p. 23.





  • Council of the Baltic Sea States, Handbook for Diplomatic and Consular Personnel on how to Assist and Protect Victims of Human Trafficking, 2011.
  • Dovydaitis, Tiffany, Human Trafficking: The Role of the Health Care Provider, Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 2010.
  • Hoff, Suzanne, The role of NGOs in combating human trafficking and supporting (presumed) trafficked persons, Council of Europe, Project on Combating and Preventing Trafficking in Human Beings in Azerbaijan 2011.
  • Home Office, Victims of Human Trafficking – guidance for frontline staff, 2013.
  • International Labour Organization (ILO), Forced Labour and Human Trafficking, Handbook for Labour Inspectors, 2008.
  • International Organization for Migration (IOM), Migrant Trafficking and Human Smuggling in Europe, 2000.
  • Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Trafficking in Human Beings: Identification of Potential and Presumed Victims, 2011.
  • US Department of State, Trafficking In Persons Report 2013.


Table of Contents:


1. Definitions And Characteristics

2. Issues Surrounding Identification Of Victims Of Trafficking

3. Government Response To Human Trafficking

4. Actors Involved In The Identification Process And Their Likely Encounters With Victims

5. Identification Protocols And Questionnaires

6. Child Trafficking

7. Support Services, Victim’s Charter Of Rights

8. Recommendations

9. Annex 1: Generic Exploitation Profiles

10. Annex 2: Training Kit





For further information, please contact:

Archana Sinha Kotecha, Liberty Asia

[email protected]

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