ASK: Screen and identify individuals who may have experienced trafficking using a trauma-informed, person-centered approach

You do not need to be an expert in intimate partner violence, child abuse, or human trafficking to help survivors in your workplace. Your role is to understand the individual’s circumstances so that you can provide support and refer them to appropriate services.

If your client is comfortable with it, ask questions to determine if they are at risk of or experiencing trafficking. Stick to the important facts that will help you identify appropriate services. Avoid in-depth questions about the details surrounding a person’s potential trafficking experience.  

We can help survivors by understanding their situation and recognizing how abuse or violence can impact health, risk behaviors, and relationships.

Not only are in-depth questions unnecessary and potentially re-traumatizing, they may also put the individual and the staff in harm’s way by collecting information that the provider may not be able to protect from subpoena in criminal and civil litigation. In addition, the time required to complete the assessment may lead to unaccountable delays that place the individual at greater risk of harm from the trafficker or from the circumstances in which they were vulnerable prior to being trafficked (Macias-Konstantopoulos & Owens, 2018, pg. 28).

Prior to any screening, your organization should take preparatory steps: (1) properly train all staff across the organization on how to identify and respond to potential human trafficking, and (2) provide any staff involved in screening with specialized training on how to conduct trauma-informed screening. SOAR Online LMS helps organizations train staff on how to identify and respond to human trafficking. Organizations have established a response protocol, which includes a solid referral network to ensure patients/clients get the services they need.


Trauma-Informed, Person-Centered Interviewing

Avoid Common Mistakes

  • Open with a framing statement while making eye contact, such as “We’ve started talking to all of our patients about safe and healthy relationships because it can impact your health.”
  • Discuss confidentiality and the limits to confidentiality. For example, “Before we get started, I want to discuss confidentiality with you.“ Then provide the individual with a brochure written in plain language about confidentiality.
  • Begin your discussion. A sample question from a screening tool could be, “Has your current partner ever made you feel afraid or threatened you in any way?” 
  • Regardless of the screening tool or protocol you use, it is important to speak in a calm, caring tone, and maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. It is also important to monitor the individual’s verbal and nonverbal cues. 

Simply asking questions is not enough to elicit information. Providers must prioritize the individual’s sense of safety and well-being, minimize the need for them to retell their story, offer education on trauma and trafficking, affirm the individual’s resiliency and strengths, and provide services and resources. 

Remember that the goal isn’t disclosure. After all, many individuals will not disclose for a variety of reasons, including fear, shame, and/or lack of awareness about trafficking. The goal is to understand the individual’s circumstances and connect them to the most appropriate services and resources. 

Use a trauma-informed, culturally appropriate approach by taking the time to establish a relationship with the individual before screening. Make every effort not to rush individuals through the screening process. Consider the following:

  • Build trust and rapport with the individual. It is the foundation for a successful screening, especially considering that many individuals who have experienced trafficking are distrusting of service providers and may be hesitant to respond.
  • Promote safety and well-being. The screening process can be an opportunity to help the patient/client feel at ease and safe.
  • Take your time. Avoid rushing through the screening tool. Read each question slowly to the individual, and offer to repeat it if they seem confused or unsure of the answer.
  • Allow time for the individual to process each question and answer at their own pace. Some individuals may need to pause before answering a question. Explain that this is okay and that you are not in a hurry.
  • Provide access to language services, as needed. This will require the organization to plan in advance.
  • Remain calm and use an empathetic tone of voice. Showing care and concern for the patient/client builds rapport and fosters a sense of safety.
Related Resources

Adult Human Trafficking Screening Tool and Guide

Download this toolkit for:

  • Evidence-based practices
  • Lessons learned
  • Screening instruments for individuals who may have experienced trafficking and those at risk of trafficking



The Adult Human Trafficking Screening Tool and Guide provides guidance for screening and includes a sample screening tool you can use. Download our toolkit for evidence-based practices, lessons learned, and screening instruments for individuals who may have experienced trafficking and those at risk of trafficking.

Before screening, it is also important to understand the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and mandated reporting requirements. It is also critical that (1) organizations have a separation protocol in place if a trafficker accompanies the patient/client and (2) periodic safety checks are conducted. The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a list of practical tips to consider before you begin screening patients/clients.

Check out our additional resources.


Macias-Konstantopoulos, W., & Owens, J. (2018). Adult human trafficking screening tool and guide (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office on Trafficking in Persons).…

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