The Human Trafficking Initiative (HTI) is a multi-stage project designed to address the devastating effects of human trafficking--and in particular, trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation--from a healthcare perspective.

Human Trafficking initiative (HTI)

Commercial sex trafficking has devastating effects on women and girls including intense psychological trauma, infectious disease (most notably HIV/AIDS), extensive physical injury, drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy and malnutrition. Sex trafficking thus not only violates human rights and contributes to harmful social and economic conditions for women, but also poses a significant public health problem. The Human Trafficking Initiative (HTI) is a multi-stage project designed to address this problem.

In 2008-2009, the Division’s Human Trafficking Initiative completed 8 social-science research case studies on human trafficking in the U.S., U.K., Brazil, India, and the Philippines. Our research examined local public health responses to sex trafficking of women and girls. UN agencies estimate the number of individuals trafficked for “commercial sexual exploitation” as between 1 and 2 million per annum. Given the plethora of physical and mental health problems facing sex-trafficked women and girls, understanding the health sector’s role in mitigating sex trafficking in communities is timely and important.

These sex trafficking case studies addressed three research questions: (1) How can a public health lens identify root causes of sex trafficking among women and girls?; (2) How can health systems directly intervene to assist sex-trafficked women and girls; and (3) How can health systems contribute to multi-sectoral anti-sex trafficking strategies? To our knowledge, only a few studies have targeted hospitals and other health institutions as entry points to study local sex trafficking contexts and their social determinants.

Launching this research within a division of a leading academic medical center has been a major advantage. Sex trafficking is a salient hospital issue due to the well-documented adverse health effects of trafficking on its victims. As frontline providers, physicians, nurses, and other allied health workers are uniquely positioned to identify and treat trafficking victims.

The Division has built on its research by developing an evidence-based training on human trafficking for health-care workers. The HTI training targets a wide healthcare audience, with the goal of reaching physicians, residents, nurses, social workers, mental healthcare providers, administrators, and other health professionals. The aim of the training is to heighten healthcare workers’ awareness of human trafficking, thus improving victim identification efforts and creating an environment of safe and appropriate care. Additionally, the trainings will help healthcare workers understand how they can play a role in the prevention of human trafficking in their communities.

The Division is also busy disseminating its case study research findings through academic peer-reviewed publications and by reaching out to public health professionals, policy makers, and other colleagues. Our goal is to share how health care can make a measurable difference in the prevention of sex trafficking as well as in the identification and care of trafficked victims. This complements the Division’s health professional trainings and will help build a network of anti-trafficking advocates and providers.