Child Trafficking and Public Health

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Health care professionals are uniquely positioned to identify child trafficking victims while they are still in their trafficking situation. Some estimates say that up to 87.8% of trafficking victims have come in contact with a healthcare professional while still in their trafficking situation.

 

What can health providers do?

  • It is important that healthcare professionals, and the staff who work in healthcare organizations, are trained on human trafficking indicators in order to better identify potential trafficking victims;
  • Healthcare organizations that serve vulnerable youth should have a protocol in place for working with suspected or identified youth in a trafficking situation. Often these protocols may overlap with existing protocols for cases of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Trafficked victims often suffer a wide range of health risks, unique to trafficking circumstances and experiences. These experiences may include:

  • Being removed from familiar environment;
  • Dangerous or harmful labor conditions;
  • High comorbidity with drug use;
  • Continued control through isolation, threats, and physical and mental abuse;
  • Little or no previous attention to health.

 

Those experiences or circumstances create health problems that should be identified by healthcare professionals, especially if when more than one are seen. These include:

  • Mental health problems that may include affective, behavioral and cognitive problems, anxiety, low self-esteem, disassociation, drug addiction, and posttraumatic stress disorder;
  • Physical trauma from the manual labor or direct violence by the trafficker that may include  cigarette burns, fractures, bruises, contusions, tattoos identifying the victim as “property” of the trafficker;
  • Reproductive and genitourinary problems that may include sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, pregnancy, abortion related complications, abnormal discharge, chronic vaginal and cervical infection, and pelvic inflammatory disease from the practices of controlling of menstrual cycles;
  • Infectious diseases including sexually transmitted diseases, respiratory diseases, and other infections such as tuberculosis.

 

Framing Human Trafficking through a Public Health Lens

  • Informs who engages in the fight against human trafficking including:
    • Expanding who must be involved in anti-trafficking efforts such as educators, medical professionals, and parents;
    • Involving survivors in the conversation to inform policy and practice;
    • Using research and researchers to understand the implications of human trafficking.
  • Targets efforts for different situations instead of using a one size fits all approach:
    • Focusing on the most vulnerable populations;
    • Taking potential traumas and cultural into prevention and interventions.
  • Works to inform what is at stake to change the dynamics that lead to trafficking:
    • Confronts entrenched interests and highlights barriers to ending trafficking including cultural norms around power, gender, and commercialized violence.

 

Projects or programs such as SOAR (Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond), a project of the Department of Health and Human Services, can train healthcare professionals in identifying and responding to suspected human trafficking victims. More information can be found here.
HEAL Trafficking (Health, Education, Advocacy, Linkage) is a group of multidisciplinary professionals who use a public health lens to fight human trafficking and support survivors. Join the network and get more information here.

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