Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a problem affecting millions of women, men and children around the world. It is a term for activities involving someone who “obtains or holds a person in compelled service” and includes forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, domestic servitude, forced child labor, and child soldiers. Human trafficking has been reported in all U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It is estimated that 18,000 individuals are trafficked into the U.S. each year, and many may go undetected for years.

All forms of trafficking may result in significant health effects, ranging from sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies to injuries, chronic pain, and a wide range of psychological, psychiatric, and behavioral health problems.

Solid data are lacking about populations affected, their characteristics and special needs, and about the best methods for screening, assessing, reporting, treating, intervening, and preventing human trafficking. However, it is known that health care professionals may be one of few professions likely to interact with victims while enslaved. Studies suggest that about 30% of trafficked individuals will be exposed to the health care system at some point during their captivity, yet they are seldom recognized as victims. Clinicians cite lack of training opportunities as one factor contributing to their perceived difficulty to screen, identify, and care for victims of trafficking.

  • The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recognizes that human trafficking is a serious problem affecting vulnerable individuals across the globe and in the U.S., and acknowledges the enormous health impact it has on victims, their families, and communities.
  • The AAFP affirms that trained health professionals – including family physicians –are uniquely positioned to identify individuals at risk, including children and youth, and may serve as key stakeholders in the identification, management, and even prevention of human trafficking.
  • The AAFP supports holistic, trauma-informed, and compassionate care of victims and survivors, and urges all physicians and other health care professionals to become informed of steps they can take to help identify and care for victims and survivors.
  • The AAFP encourages training programs to integrate education on human trafficking into existing curricula (such as those on intimate partner violence, and child and elder abuse) at the pre-doctoral, residency, and CME levels.
  • The AAFP supports collaboration with law enforcement and community-based organizations addressing human trafficking, and calls for increased funding for research on the health and public health consequences of human trafficking.

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(2016 September BOD)