The Graduated Screening Process

Identification of situations of violence & exploitation is a major challenge for service providers yet it is incredibly important in order to connect victims to the services that they need.

1Traditionally, organizations either rely on self-identification of instances of trafficking, violence, or exploitation, or they wait until there are suspicions of trafficking present to conduct a screen. Many times, organizations do not even have a formal process in place. Often times, if there is a formal evaluation process, it is not necessarily structured to identify trafficking, and typically is not consistent across the community or even within an organization.

It is important to note that certain organizations, such as victim services providers, need to be incredibly cautious not to overly probe potential victims. Their main focus is confidentiality and providing services, not necessarily identification, so they often rely on self-identification. The challenge with trafficking, though, is that self-identification is incredibly rare, and yet it’s often needed to connect a potential victim with the appropriate services and to help them access much needed benefits.

In either case, the burden of determining whether or not a screening is conducted is left up to the advocates interacting with the potential victim. Since these situations are not black and white, this puts a tremendous amount of responsibility on the screener.

Further, it creates detrimental information silos which is a major problem in ensuring victims do not fall through the cracks.

Immediate self disclosure of trafficking is rare. However, it does become possible when individuals are connected to vital services where their basic needs are met. But how do we get there in a way that best serves the victim?

  1. First and foremost, victims should only have to tell their story once, so they can work on their recovery rather than reliving negative events.
  2. Second, screening processes have to be streamlined, so service providers can focus on helping victims rather than paperwork. And they have to be confidential so victims are protected.
  3. Lastly, the screening processes must be implemented in a way that allows rigorous evaluation so we can continuously improve our systems as a community.

This is where a graduated screening process comes into play.

The Graduated Screening Process | Step 1: Screen universally at intake, casting a wide net. Step 2: Observe & note red flags over time, triaging risk. Step 3: Respond to high risk situations as they unfold. Step 4: More deeply assess the situation over time. Step 5: Make a final determination & connect victims to services.

This is the process of screening an individual for risk over time in a gradual manner as part of a collaborative, holistic system across the community. Research shows that effective identification of violence & exploitation comes when we cast a wide net by screening universally at intake regardless of suspicion or self-identification of trafficking. By screening universally, we are able to identify high-risk situations sooner and provide valuable services to victims earlier. Because a graduated screening process is based on repeated interactions, we are able refer high risk situations to trauma-informed professionals who can assess the situation more deeply. From there, we can triage high-risk situations and respond to them accordingly.

Essentially, the graduated screening process consists of red flags aggregating from observations and intake processes in a way that makes us aware of when a situation is high risk enough that a deeper assessment is needed. That deeper assessment is conducted by a professional with trust, rapport, and a longer term relationship with the potential victim as getting to a disclosure or determination of trafficking victimization involves very sensitive conversations, trust, and training on human trafficking.

As a result, identification of these situations happens sooner and the likelihood of victims falling through the cracks decreases as the screening process works to connect the dots to determine risk level.

The concept of the graduated screening process is the result of a multi-year effort with the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force Screening Subcommittee. In collaboration with the NHTTF and our community partners, we built a software to facilitate this process known as PAVE. Learn more about the history of PAVE here.

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