Putting a Face on Pain: Innovative Training to Fight Trafficking in Timor Leste

Timor Leste - A scantily-dressed, heavily made-up young woman has been rescued from a karaoke bar, where she has been forced to have sex with clients. She is five months pregnant and shaking from drug withdrawal. She turns angrily to face the police officer beside her: “It’s hot in here,” she snaps. “If you have questions, then ask them, and do it quickly.” 

The officer, interviewing her to determine if she is a victim of human trafficking, soothes and empathizes with her and continues with gentle questions. The situation is real. So are the people. Except this is only a simulation. 

Under the project funded by the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, IOM Timor-Leste has conducted a series of training of trainers sessions for the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) and Immigration Service.

While traditional training techniques formed the backbone of the capacity development activities, IOM developed a simulation exercise as the final practical portion of the training. Participants’ newly learned victim identification and interviewing skills were put to the test as they were required to conduct screening interviews on two separate victims of human trafficking. 

To obtain “genuine” victims, IOM worked with a local acting firm to engage professional actors to portray victims of trafficking. This included full costume and make-up to portray typical physical injuries, while the performer’s acting talents depicted the psychological and emotional traumas victims of trafficking typically display. 

Participants were led to believe real victims had been identified and brought on site by IOM, having consented to the interview with law enforcement officials. After the interviews were completed, IOM’s experts revealed it was a simulation and provided a comprehensive debrief for participants on areas where they excelled and areas where improvements could be made.  The practical sessions were recorded so they can be used as teaching and learning aids in the future.

“The novel practical element in these sessions was of clear benefit to participants – all of whom experienced first-hand the difficulties of working with traumatized victims of trafficking who often fear law enforcement, suffer physical, emotional and psychological trauma,” said Andrew Harrington, IOM Timor-Leste’s counter-trafficking program manager. 

“This can make victims of trafficking exceptionally difficult to work with and far too easy to be identified as criminal suspects to be charged, rather than victims in need of assistance and support services.  Participants clearly demonstrated the ability to put their newly learned skills to use in practice and all expressed their amazement at the difficulties of working with real victims of human trafficking,” he added.

In addition to the practical skills element, sessions were aimed at developing internal national capacity to develop and administer training within the National Police and Immigration Service. The sessions featured portions dedicated to developing training skills among participants, interactive in-depth analysis of human trafficking as a regional issue, an international legal issue, and a national socio-economic and legal issue facing Timor-Leste.

The trainings targeted specific units in the police force, including Community Police, the Border Patrol Unit, the Special Police Unit, Maritime Police Unit, the National Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Service, and officers from Immigration Service. In addition to supplying the necessary equipment to conduct further trainings, IOM will support the Border Patrol Unit in carrying out an additional set of counter-trafficking trainings in key border areas.

For further information please contact IOM Timor Leste. Andrew Harrington, Tel: +670 78461585, Email: or Jacinto Amaral, Tel: +670 77013825, Email: