The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children does not define the term "victim of trafficking". However, article 4 of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings defines a victim of trafficking as "any natural person who is subject to trafficking in human beings". Similarly, article 2 of the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP) defines a victim of trafficking as "any natural person who is subject to an act of trafficking in persons [as defined in this Convention]".
Paragraph A.1 of the Annex to the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crimes and Abuse of Power of 1985 defines "victims of crime" as "persons who, individually and collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States".
A similar definition has been adopted by the Council of the European Union Framework Decision of 15 March 2001 on the Standing of Victims in Criminal Proceedings. Article 1 defines a "victim of crime" as "a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering or economic loss, directly caused by acts or omissions that are in violation of the criminal law of a Member State".
Persons may also be termed as "potential" or "presumed" victims of trafficking. Potential victims are people who have not yet been trafficked, but due to their vulnerability or other circumstances, are at risk of being trafficked. A presumed victim is a person whose circumstances indicate that they may have been trafficked, but no final determination has yet been made, perhaps pending further inquiries. In the interim they should be treated as a victim and immediately provided with protection and assistance. In some States, presumed victims will receive temporary protection and assistance under domestic laws and policies until their status has been determined. In other States, the person must be formally identified as a victim before they qualify for government protection and assistance. It should be noted that NGOs may provide protection, assistance and support until State agencies are able to do so, following completion of their inquiries and victim identification processes (see Module 10).
Many victims of trafficking may appear to have consented to conditions imposed on them by their traffickers (see Box 1). Nevertheless, the definition of trafficking in the Protocol against Trafficking in Persons recognizes that where "means" have been used by a trafficker, such as threats or deception, any consent by a victim is vitiated. Means are not required where the victim is a child. The elements of trafficking in persons are further explained in Module 6. For references to a terminological debate on victims versus survivors, also see Module 6. For a broader discussion on the evolution of victimology as a discipline and the concept of justice for victims of crimes, see Module 11 of the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Module series.
Many victims are willing to accept difficult conditions because they want to go to another country to find a job and a better life and hope to send money to their family. When they are recruited, they might suspect that they will be obliged to work very hard or even provide sexual services, but they may think that these conditions are acceptable for some period and that it's worth enduring harsh conditions to earn good money which they can use to pay off debts or cover family expenses. These are some of the reasons why victims may provide consent in the recruitment stage. But law enforcement officers should understand that during the recruitment stage potential victims are usually subject to deceit and other underhanded recruitment methods.