In 2020, there were reports of more than 16,000 individual survivors of human trafficking reported to the US National Human Trafficking Hotline, and this is likely a small fraction of the real number. Despite these numbers, we still know very little about the impact of being a survivor of trafficking, and the stigma associated with being a trafficking survivor. Studies in other populations (for example, individuals who have HIV infection, obesity, or mental illness) have demonstrated that the stigma of having certain conditions is associated with poor health outcomes.
Carmelle Wallace MD, Jordan Greenbaum MD, and Karen Albright PhD, from the University of Colorado and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children sought to understand whether survivors of trafficking experience stigmatization, and how this may affect health outcomes. Their article, which is being early released in Pediatrics this week, is entitled, “Global Perspectives on the Health and Social Impacts of Child Trafficking” (10.1542/peds.2021-055840).
The authors conducted qualitative interviews with experts in child sex trafficking and providers who worked with survivors around the world. They chose not to interview trafficking survivors because, given that the authors were studying experiences globally, they could not assure that there were resources, particularly in resource-limited countries, to adequately protect and/or support the trafficking survivors after interviews about traumatizing experiences.
Perhaps not surprisingly, stigmatization was a commonly reported phenomenon. This can take the form of victim blaming, ostracization by the family and home community, and victim shaming. This can create substantial barriers to seeking and receiving health care for both physical and emotional needs.
Disappointingly, interviewees reported multiple instances of stigmatization and discrimination by health care providers.
For many pediatricians, human trafficking may not even be on your radar. Given how widespread and common it is, it is likely in your community, and you may not be aware. Reading this article is a good first step to increasing your level of awareness and ideally, you will be spurred to learn about local resources so that you may be better able to identify these youth and help them.