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Last edited: September 14, 2012

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The needs of women escaping trafficking vary depending on the form of exploitation they have experienced and the context in which the abuse took place (i.e. within their country of origin or across national borders). Trafficked women seeking shelter may have been abused within their own community, in a transit country or other destination, which affect the assistance that they may have access to (e.g. legal protection, housing assistance, etc.) and the decisions they must make when seeking support (e.g. return to their previous home or stay in their current country or community).

Various factors affecting trafficked women demonstrate their need for specific accommodation and support, including:

  • The ways in which abuse was experienced (e.g. physical, sexual, emotional) and resulting needs. For example, while sexual violence and abuse may be faced by many women in general; women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation may need specific services in response to the magnitude of sexual abuse they have encountered.
  • The legal rights and options for women who are trafficked across national borders to remain in the country of destination, if that is their preference. This is particularly complicated where women do not have identity documents or when a girl seeks support and does not have decision-making status as an adult.
  • The heightened security risks a woman escaping trafficking may be facing and related needs for additional protective measures, for example, to ensure her safety from organized crime groups and precautions that need to be taken if law enforcement officials cannot ensure her protection.
  • The state and non-governmental counter-trafficking assistance and protection frameworks in place at the local, national and regional levels, as well as opportunities to work on behalf of and in partnership with survivors.
  • The re-victimization and violations that survivors may face when seeking support, such as:
    • Placement in detention or immigration facilities in the absence of women’s shelters and against their consent.
    • Conditionality of accommodation or protection services (e.g. shelter may be provided by the state only when a survivor provides a testimony or offers other support toward the prosecution of traffickers).  
    • Mandatory or invasive medical examinations or testing for diseases, such as HIV.

These circumstances reinforce the importance of establishing specialized shelters and services for trafficking survivors, which should have the capacity to support:

  • Identification of women and girl victims.
  • Legal assistance for survivors to safeguard their residence/legal status and other rights.
  • Referrals and safe returns for women wishing to relocate or resettle in a particular community.
  • Victim and data protection, particularly for those at risk of retaliation and re-trafficking.
  • Specialized counseling support.
  • Access to programmes which provide compensation and financial assistance.

Shelters may contribute to each of these areas of assistance through the provision of direct support or advocacy within other systems and agencies for responses and protocols that protect women and girls.

Considerations in the development of specialized shelter facilities or services for trafficking survivors include:

  • A variety of shelter models can be used to provide appropriate options for survivors, including: drop-in centres where women can access temporary accommodation and receive information on services available and referrals to police, legal, medical and other supports; secure shelter facilities; or confidential apartments. Physical standards for these spaces should align with general shelter guidelines, although additional security measures may be required.
  • The type of shelter provided should reflect the woman’s stage of recovery from the abuse:
    • Emergency, short-term accommodation and access to basic protection, medical assistance and legal services often needed when a woman is first escaping abuse.
    • Short-term shelter and supports for women who have returned to their communities of origin.
    • Medium-term second stage or transitional housing to assist women while they plan for longer-term housing or are processing their legal status (in cases where women are reintegrating into a new country).
    • Longer-term housing or independent living accommodation support.
  • Girls should be provided with specific longer-term accommodation (ideally separate shelters for girls) and where this is not feasible, additional support services should be available for child victims of trafficking (e.g. trauma-informed care, legal protections and educational supports, among others).


Example: Public-Private Partnership to Prevent Trafficking in the Philippines The non-governmental organization Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF) operates four shelters for victims at major Philippine ports, including Manila and Davao. The Philippine Port Authority, police, and shipping companies, including the country’s largest passenger shipping company, identify victims, mainly children, transiting the port and turn them over to VFF, which provides housing and protection. VFF then works with police to facilitate investigations and with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to repatriate and counsel victims. At the Davao shelter alone, VFF serves up to 45 victims a week. Extracted from USAID.2006. Linking Gender-Based Violence Research to Practice in East, Central and Southern Africa: A Review of Risk Factors and Promising Interventions.


  • Shelter support should be part of a holistic response process to facilitate women's safe return to their country or community of origin (if they choose to return), with service providers participating in multisectoral coordination mechanisms. Such systems can ensure survivors have access to:
    • Services and support in the host country, including emergency, short-term accommodation alongside protection, medical and legal services.
    • An adequate period of time enabling the woman to recuperate.
    • A risk-assessment and preparation/planning period before the return.
    • Regular monitoring of their situation by case managers or other service providers to ensure the survivor’s well-being in the reintegration process. For example, this may include regular (i.e. weekly) visits with the survivor by a designated case manager, which decrease over time according to the wishes of the woman or girl as well as coordinated review of the case by a multidisciplinary team of service providers.
    • A range of long-term financial, employment and housing services and support in the country of return.

Example: The Dutch Foundation against Trafficking, known as the Coordination Centre Human Trafficking (COMENSHA), is one of nine member organizations of La Strada, an international network that aims to prevent trafficking in human beings, with a particular focus on women in Central and Eastern Europe. COMENSHA functions as a national reporting and registration point for trafficked persons. Once a person returns to his or her country of origin, COMENSHA coordinates return and reintegration steps in that country through La Strada or other local organizations to ensure the provision of shelter for returned victims and of support towards their reintegration. COMENSHA also supports clients who do not want to return to their country of origin.

Excerpt from UNODC. 2008. Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons. UNODC. Vienna.

  • Victim protection (including security of data) may be provided through:
    • Physical protection (i.e. confidential and secure shelter facilities provided without conditions to all women who seek support).
    • Psychological assistance (i.e. avoiding re-victimisation, providing special psychological support, advocating for protection within anti-trafficking, legal and coordinated response systems).
    • Providing or advocating for legal assistance for victims engaged in criminal proceedings.
    • Facilitating access to national witness protection schemes and advocating for them to be adapted to ensure the safety and security of women who are victims of trafficking.
    • Maintaining the anonymity of women in the shelter and protecting the confidentiality of their information.

Code of Conduct for Establishing a Confidential Shelter (Serbia and Montenegro)

 1.   Principles

The purpose of the shelter is to create a safe space for trafficked women, including:

  • Adequate and safe housing;
  • Access to all relevant health and social services;
  • Counselling in the trafficked woman’s native language; and
  • Opportunities for education and training.

2.    Target groups

Target groups for the shelter are:

  • Foreign women who have been trafficked to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) for the purpose of sexual exploitation;
  • Women who are FRY nationals trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation or any other form of exploitation and returned to their country of origin;
  • Foreign women being trafficked to the FRY for the purpose of exploitation (forced marriage, domestic labour, and other forms of exploitation); and
  • Women who are FRY nationals being trafficked within the FRY for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

3.    Security

The shelter should be guarded 24 hours a day. Furthermore, quick reaction capacities for emergency situations, flexibility of service, confidentiality, and escort of women and staff for routine medical visits or recreational outings must be in place.

The address of the premises should be confidential. Implementing partners are not entitled to pass on the address, including to the press.  

4.    Entry to the shelter

If they voluntarily accept to access the shelter, trafficked women are referred to the shelter by the Mobile Team of the National Referral Mechanism.

Each woman must be apprised of, and accept, the rules for living in the shelter.

Violations of the rules lead to immediate exclusion from the shelter.

The rules of the shelter include cleaning and cooking duties, agreement on regulations for entering and leaving the premises, and restriction in telephone communications.

Even though a large number of women staying in the shelter might want to return to their countries of origin, this is not a precondition for acceptance to the shelter.

The legal framework for staying in the shelter is defined in the letter of intent and on the basis of Yugoslav and Serbian legal provisions for foreigners.

 5.  Structure

A consultation board consisting of the members of the Mobile Team and the OSCE Mission to Serbia and Montenegro (formerly, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) will monitor the implementation of the shelter and its ongoing activities.

  i.              Memorandum of understanding

A memorandum of understanding between the implementation partners (IOM and Counselling Against Family Violence) will be signed.

  ii.            Letter of intent

A letter of intent should be signed between the implementation partners and the republican and federal Ministries of Interior, which may contain agreements on the following issues:

  • Access to jails and detention centres.
  • Police reaction and support during emergencies at shelters.
  • Police escort for any official travel.
  • Expeditious referrals of women in detention to victim-protection services.
  • Securing the safety of the shelter and its staff and clients.
  • Short-term permit (30-day) to stay according to the recommendations of the European Commission.
  • Identifying a focal point at the relevant law-enforcement agency.

  iii.           Management of the shelter

Counseling Against Family Violence is responsible for managing the shelter.

  iv.           Services

During the stay in the shelter, the following services are offered to the women:

  • Medical screening;
  • Psychological consultation;
  • Legal consultation, including informing the women of further possible procedures such as filing a complaint, criminal proceedings as a witness in a trial, and/or applying for asylum;
  • Social counseling, including assistance in reissuing documents and preparation for  returning to the country of origin;
  • Escorting women to places outside the shelter; and
  • Interpretation.

All of the above-mentioned services are offered on a voluntary basis and are not mandatory.

 v.            Concurrent activities

Concurrent activities and services are be provided in the shelter such as:

  • Television, videos, books, board games, and magazines;
  • Crafts, painting, and language study; and
  • Recreational outings to parks or museums.

Source: Developed in Serbia by the multidisciplinary team under the guidance of the OSCE mission (2001). Op.cit.,Note 45, Anti-Trafficking Activities of the Yugoslav Team. (Excerpt: OSCE/ODIHR. 2004. National Referral Mechanisms - Joining Efforts to Protect the Rights of Trafficked Persons: A Practical Handbook).

  • Shelters should be familiar with any legal commitments and policies related to compensation and financial assistance available for trafficking victims related to their personal suffering due to physical and psychological stress, and losses caused by damages and withheld earnings (European Women's Lobby & Nordic Baldic Network, 2005-2008). See specific guidance on legislative measures.
  • Services should facilitate survivor access to appropriate education and training opportunities within shelter facilities, which are linked with longer-term livelihood interventions and supports once they have integrated within a community and are living independently. Educational assistance is particularly important to help women broaden their potential employment opportunities and skills development (UNODC, 2008).

Example: The POPPY Project (United Kingdom) 

The POPPY Project in the United Kingdom provides accommodation in a 40-bed facility for women over the age of 18 who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation or domestic slavery. Women receive assistance from a senior support worker and a range of specialist services including:

  • A food/subsistence allowance
  • Needs and risk assessments and safety planning
  • Health and needs assessment
  • Registration with a medical doctor to receive any necessary medical treatment
  • Counselling services
  • Legal advice
  • Education and English language classes
  • Education sessions regarding equal opportunities, welfare benefits and healthy relationships
  • Assistance with contacting family and friends
  • Support for access to legal advice, including information relating to immigration status and applications for asylum
  • Liaison with police and immigration services
  • Support with asylum and immigration process
  • Support for integration and/or re-settlement including support for voluntary safe return to the woman's country of origin if applicable

In order to provide safety for women when accommodation at the project is full, POPPY works with community partnerships to access alternative safe accommodation and solutions including:

Source: Eaves. Accommodation and Support POPPY Project.


Psychosocial Care for Women in Shelter Homes (UNODC, 2011). This manual is a resource for developing capacity of staff working in shelters for trafficked women, based on the context in India. The manual highlights the specific needs of women in institutions, enables caregivers to understand these needs and gives them an insight into the spectrum of psychosocial interventions. It aims to strengthen service provider understanding of the various laws and policies that are available to safeguard the rights of women in India with an additional focus on the importance of staff care and stress management as well. Available in English.

Victim Translation Assistance Tool - Life support messages for victims of human trafficking (UNODC, 2010). This tool is a unique resource for service providers to assist basic assistance to victims of human trafficking. Developed in collaboration with survivors of trafficking and survivor support experts, the tool uses audio messages with key encounter messages to facilitate the identification of and communication with a trafficked person and the launch of a criminal investigation. The tool contains 35 recorded basic questions and messages, which are translated into 40 languages, tailored for the gender of survivors and include special questions for children. Available in English.

Manual for Work on SOS Hotline for (Potential) Victims of Human Trafficking (ASTRA – Anti Trafficking Action, 2010). This manual is for programme managers and organizations establishing or supporting a hotline for violence survivors or those at-risk of violence. Based on the experience of the anti-trafficking hotline established by ASTRA in 2002 in the Republic of Serbia, the guide provides: a brief introduction to the issue of trafficking; guidance on establishing, managing and running a hotline for potential trafficking survivors; identifies its potential linkages to other programs; its role in the referral system; and includes forms and additional reference material as annexes. Available in English.

A Guide for Mothers, Grandmothers, and Others for Helping a Girl Caught in Prostitution or Sex Trafficking (Women's Justice Center). This guide is for female relatives of girls and young women at-risk or engaged in prostitution or sex trafficking. It provides step-by-step guidance on responding to warning signs, filing a police report, and handling a daughter's arrest or death due to prostitution or sex trafficking. It includes information and links to online resources, and features six true stories from North and Central America. Available in English and Spanish.

Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons (UNODC, 2008). This resource is for policymakers, law enforcement and justice actors, as well as service providers and civil society actors addressing trafficking. The toolkit provides guidance on relevant legislative and practices, recommendations on training materials and other programming resources for government and non-government actors as well as includes promising practices of anti-trafficking interventions from around the world. Available in English.

Guide to Ethics and Human Rights in Counter-trafficking: Ethical Standards for Counter-Trafficking Research and Programming (UNIAP, 2008). This guide is for practitioners and programmers implementing counter-trafficking programmes. The Guide provides seven guiding principles for counter-trafficking programmes to consider and follow, including illustrative programme examples from Asia and annexes with sample consent forms and checklists for conducting research and programming. Available in English.

Combating Human Trafficking in the Americas: A Guide to International Advocacy (Global Rights, 2007). This guide is a resource for civil society organizations seeking to promote the rights of trafficked persons and advocating for human rights at the international or regional level; working on migrant, women or children's rights; or providing training on human rights. The guide provides information on the international and regional legal frameworks, institutions and mechanisms relevant for anti-trafficking advocates based in the Americas, including opportunities for NGO advocacy and contributions and annexes with contact information, references and websites. Available in English.

WHO Ethical and safety recommendations for interviewing trafficked women (Cathy Zimmerman and Charlotte Watts for the World Health Organization, 2003). This report is a resource for researchers, media, and service providers with limited experience working with trafficked women. The recommendations should be used together with existing standards and include ten basic standards for interviewing women who are in or have left a trafficking situation with an explanation provided for each standard and suggestions for their implementation. Available in Armenian, Bosnian, Croatian, English, Japanese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Serbian.

The IOM Handbook on Direct Assistance for Victims of Trafficking (IOM International Organization for Migration, 2007). This resource provides detailed guidance on establishing and managing shelters for victims of trafficking. Available in English.

Guidelines for the Operation of Care Facilities for Victims of Trafficking and Violence against Women and Girls. Rationale, Basic Procedures and Requirements for Capacity Building (Planete Enfants, 2005).Available in English.

National Referral Mechanisms - Joining Efforts to Protect the Rights of Trafficked Persons: A Practical Handbook (OSCE/ODIHR, 2004). This resource provides guidance for operating shelters for survivors of trafficking, including samples templates such as a Code of Conduct for maintaining the confidentiality of a shelter and checklists for programming, based on the context across countries in North America and Europe. Available in Albanian, English, French, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, and Uzbek.

Minimum Standards of Care and Support for the Victims of Trafficking and Other Forms of Violence in South Asia (South Asia Regional Initiative/Equity Support Program). Available in English.

South Asian Resource Book on Livelihood Options for Survivors of Trafficking and Other Forms of Violence (South Asia Regional Initiative/ Equity Support Program). Available in English.

See additional tools on Trafficking from the Virtual Knowledge Centre Tools Database.