CRIMINAL JUSTICE STUDENTS’ PERCEPTIONS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIMS: ASSESSING BIASES AND HELPING BEHAVIOR
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Criminal Justice students often work within the legal system, which places them in positions where they are likely to encounter human trafficking victims. However, most students’ perceptions of human trafficking are formed through biased media depictions with little to no formal training or education about human trafficking. Hence, understanding criminal justice students’ perceptions of human trafficking victims is an important research endeavor. The current study used a vignette study design to determine if criminal justice students are able to accurately identify victims and willing to help victims, or if they hold biases based on demographic variables (i.e., age, gender, immigrant status) and forms of trafficking (i.e., sex and labor trafficking). For this study, 190 criminal justice students and 149 psychology students were recruited to participate. Psychology students were included as a comparison group as they may also encounter human trafficking victims, though likely to a lesser extent. Due to stereotypes and biased views of who victims are (formed largely by biased media coverage), we hypothesized that both groups of students would be less likely to correctly identify and less willing to help male, domestic, adult, and labor-trafficked individuals as compared to female, foreign, young, and sex-trafficked individuals. The results show that criminal justice students and psychology students were less likely to accurately identify male and labor-trafficked victims than female and sex-trafficking victims, and less willing to help labor-trafficked victims than sex-trafficked victims. In addition, psychology students were significantly less willing to help male and domestic victims than female and foreign victims. Implications and future directions are discussed.