How Are Human Trafficking Victims Rescued?

How Are Human Trafficking Victims Rescued?

Read survivor stories from our partner organizations.


It goes without saying that rescue is a key turning point for trafficked people. But exactly how does it happen? There are four main ways:


This is the most commonly talked of rescue. The dramatic raid: doors kicked in by police, captives set free by compassionate social workers. This work is the specialty of the International Justice Mission. These rescues are very powerful because only they can free to the most deeply enslaved, the most abused, and the youngest victims of trafficking and exploitation. Nicholas Kristof has written about brothel raids with IJM and Somaly Mam.


This is perhaps the most dangerous road to freedom. A covert run for it under the cover of night almost always brings armed captors chasing, hoping to recapture their investment. It’s even more treacherous when the police aren’t a safe haven. Trafficking survivor and abolitionist Somaly Mam ran away from the brothel where she was help captive after years of torture and abuse. She tells her story in The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine.

Earn Freedom

Much modern day slavery is debt based. Families working at brick kilns across India and Pakistan are stuck because a father or grandfather needed to borrow some money. Now, charged exorbitant interest or cheated in the paperwork, they’re trapped. In some rare cases families in this situation earn enough to buy their freedom. But not until after years of dawn-to-dusk back breaking labor for every member of the family.

Just Walk Away

Many of the women at Freeset are trafficked from Bangladesh and the Murshidabad region of West Bengal, India. Once they arrive in the red light district many are simply abandoned. They have no education, no help. So they’re trapped selling sex to pay high rent. But many can walk away—there’s no one holding them. Their enslavement has become situational. Given opportunities like work at Freeset or Sari Bari, women can leave the trade. While these women are some of the luckiest trafficking victims, just walking away is not as uncomplicated as it seems.

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What Is Life Like for Survivors of Trafficking?

Life has changed for trafficking survivors. In so many ways everything is different. Life has started over again, and this time there are options and hope. But trafficking victims start this new life with a deficit. They’re often mentally, physically, and financially in need. Many lack basic skills like writing their name or using scissors and have deeper issues like building self-confidence and trusting others. They don’t have a source of income to provide for themselves and their families. Often they’re a long way from home. And if their trafficker wants them back (or wants to have the income they earned from their victim), life can be quite dangerous.

Their stories are all different—from success stories like Somaly Mam to this boy in Haiti who can’t speak and is just learning to smile again. Amidst the challenges we can’t forget hope. With the right help, survivors can make steps toward safety, freedom, education, financial stability, and health.

In the struggle and the murkiness, remember: Before these words (derived directly from their stories) characterized their lives.


Then change came: They were rescued or worked for their freedom or were abandoned by their captors, left helpless and alone but with the freedom to start again.

In their time of vulnerability, help came along. A friend, a counselor, a family member, a judge. This time no one took advantage of their poverty, their lack of education, their weakness. This time they were given a chance at a new life.

And now this is who they are: