Trafficked victims face many risks both concerning their mental and physical health which I will explore in this post for the World Day Against Trafficked Persons, arguably the individuals with the least rights in society, with little protection, enforceable protection, by governments all over the globe.

There are several barriers to healthcare for trafficked persons:

  • Language barriers
  • Not having any legal/ identity documents. Many identity documents are confiscated and the trafficked individuals are given false information about the rights of the person, including what their rights to health services are. Due to this, trafficked persons may not be acknowledged as victims and may be seen as ‘violators of migration, labour or prostitution laws’ and so are imprisoned as illegal immigrants [2].
  • The knowledge limit and attitude of service providers. Current healthcare knowledge about appropriate ways to approach, identify and care for trafficked people are ‘hugely limited’ with 87% of NHS professionals not knowing how to identify those that have been trafficked with 13% of NHS professionals having had contact with individuals they knew/suspected to be trafficked victims and 20% of maternity service professionals [6].
  • Logistics of finding healthcare providers [6]. In the United Nations, there is no requirement to provide medical assistance to trafficked persons and there is no guidance of what type of health services to provide and under which circumstances to provide them [2]. Quote: ‘Each State Party shall consider implementing measures to provide for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims of trafficking in persons … in particular, the provision of: (a) Medical, psychological and material assistance’

The health risks that trafficked persons face are listed below:

Physical Trauma. A 2006 Zimmerman and Cathy study found that 95% of women trafficked for prostitution in the European Union had been ‘violently assaulted or coerced into a sexual act’ [1] and a nine country assessment published in the Journal of Trauma Practice in 2003 that 73% of women used in prostitution were physically assaulted.

For forced labour workers the physical risks include poor ventilation, poor sanitation, exhaustion from extended hours, dehydration, damage from using high risk equipment, chemical hazards, heat stroke, respiratory problems, skin infections and hypothermia due to the fact that the interests are not to ensure a safe, working environment but to exploit [2].

The UK Home Office has said that 77% of women trafficked have experienced physical violence in comparison to 42% of men [6]. The most common physical symptoms are headaches (45%), being easily fatigued (42%), memory problems (28.6%), back pain (25.8%), and dizzy spells (25.2%).

Mental Health. The same nine country assessment mentioned above also quoted percentages such as 63% of the women used in prostitution having been raped and 68% meeting the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Other issues are dissociative and personality disorders, anxiety and depression with some studies stating that 85% of women trafficked over international borders had severe depression, a trend also present in individuals trafficked to be used in forced labour.

Trafficked victims have social isolation imposed on them as they are pulled from their family and there is widespread emotional manipulation including ‘threats and false promises’ [2]. In the UK the prevalence of mental health problems among trafficked persons is 70% [6].

HIV/AIDS. In a study by Silverman, Jay C called “HIV Prevalence and Predictors of Infection in Sex-Trafficked Nepalese Girls and Women,” it was found that among women trafficked from Nepal and prostituted in India, 38% had HIV with the number increasing to 60% if the woman was used in prostitution before the age of 15. The percentages seem to vary between 50 and 90% in children used in brothels. Sex trafficking has been blamed for the global spread of HIV subtypes and mutations that are drug resistant like how 89% and 98% of prostituted women in Indonesia with gonorrhoea were resistant to penicillin and tetracycline according to “Risk profile of female sex workers who participate in a routine penicillin prophylaxis programme in Surabaya, Indonesia,” by MR Joesoef.

Another area of sex trafficking is the use of drugs and alcohol to control the individual and to increase profits [2].

Poor Nutrition.

Abortion Complications from unwanted or unprofitable pregnancies.

Sexual and Reproductive Problems.

Organ Harvesting. There have been many stories in the media that show that  immigrants, especially children, are having their organs harvested, some stories saying as a result of them not being able to pay their trafficker and others saying that immigrants are being targeted specifically for their organs [4] [5].

In conclusion we need, long term research studies so we can better understand the trafficking of men and their health needs, initiatives for the health care services to be able to identify trafficking when they see it and to be able to implement a framework successfully and to provide acute but also long term healthcare, on the UK government website there is advice of conduct but I am unaware if it is compulsory training.

[1]https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/tip/rls/fs/07/91418.htm

[2] http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77394/1/WHO_RHR_12.42_eng.pdf

[3] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/human-trafficking-migrant-health-guide

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/refugee-crisis-sold-for-organs-people-smugglers-trafficker-a7119066.html

[5] http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/750681/Child-migrants-people-smuggling-organs-mafia-gangs-Africa-European-Union-refugee-asylum

[6] https://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/depts/hspr/research/CEPH/wmh/projects/A-Z/protect-files/PolicyBrief-HomeOffice.pdf

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