AEquitas - Champions for Justice

Just Exits for Survivors of Exploitation
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Proper identification of and support for women and girls who have been victimized depends on the existence of a coordinated community response as well as the implementation of effective, trauma-informed practices by every participating professional in the justice system. Research has shown that although a collaborative trauma-informed response has a positive impact on case outcomes, the impact may be limited or even futile without meaningful implementation of data-driven policies and practices that afford exit ramps from exploitation.

Survivors who actively seek out the justice system’s intervention, as well as those who intersect with it collaterally as witnesses or as defendants charged with a crime, must be identified as such. The ability of prosecutors and allied professionals to do so—and in turn to direct survivors to an exit ramp—is paramount for survivor empowerment, community safety, and prevention. Similarly, prosecutors are often in a position to close on-ramps, by identifying individuals intersecting with the system who are potentially vulnerable to exploitation and to factor that vulnerability into their interactions with them, directing them to appropriate resources and support. Achieving these goals requires professionals working within the justice system to have the knowledge, authority, discretion, and courage to initiate and effectively implement new approaches.

As the gatekeepers of our criminal justice system, prosecutors are in a unique position to facilitate the systemic improvements necessary to achieve justice for all. As a result, prosecutors cannot simply be public officials who institute legal proceedings—they must be agents for change and advocates for their communities. The duty of the prosecutor to seek justice is equally important as their duty to improve the administration of justice. Prosecutors, along with the rest of the criminal justice system, are crucial to the prevention of violence and exploitation as well as to the improvement of individual and collective perceptions of the system and its response. Identifying marginalized women and girls who are victims, making fair charging decisions, and honoring ethical obligations to facilitate criminal record relief for survivors burdened with criminal records represent notable ways in which prosecutors can intervene at a critical life moment and connect women and girls with services and support to clear the way to a different path.

The primary moment that the Just Exits for Survivors of Exploitation Initiative (Just Exits) will address is when law enforcement, primarily prosecutors, come into contact with survivors. This includes recognition of survivors as such, building trust, and advocating for a clear, consistent approach to holding individuals who buy and sell others accountable, as well as reducing demand. Through the development of resources and its provision of training and mentorship, Just Exits will afford prosecutors and allied professionals the opportunity to close individual and systemic on-ramps to sexual exploitation while building more exit ramps for survivors.

More specifically, Just Exits will focus holistically on the short- and long-term, system-focused work necessary to engage and support survivors while also holding offenders accountable. The goal of Just Exits is to improve the way prosecutors identify and respond to sexual exploitation of women and girls by (1) creating a performance management system that outlines model prosecution practices and provides offices with the resources necessary to document implementation of those practices as well as their effectiveness in achieving intended outcomes; (2) facilitating training for prosecutors and allied professionals in partnership with survivor-advocates; and (3) providing ongoing specialized assistance, mentoring, and case consultation to overcome the systemic failures that contribute to greater vulnerability and further violence.