Lack of evidence about human trafficking

Women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation experience violence and poor physical and mental health, however there is little evidence available about the health consequences experienced by trafficked children, men or people trafficked for other forms of exploitation, according to a new study by researchers at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, published in PLoS Medicine.

Although human trafficking—defined by the UN as the recruitment and movement of individuals, most often by force, coercion or deception, for the purpose of exploitation—affects millions of men, women and children around the world, to date the health consequences and public health implications of human trafficking have received little international attention.

A team of researchers led by Dr Siân Oram from the IoP at King’s, in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, examined all relevant published studies to gather evidence and information on the frequency of all forms of violence relating to people who have been trafficked and the frequency of physical, mental, and sexual health problems.

The authors found studies consistently reported that women and girls who had been trafficked for sexual exploitation experienced high levels of physical and sexual violence. In addition, they experienced high levels of physical, sexual, and mental health problems: headache, back pain, stomach pain and memory problems were common as were anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, the authors found that a longer duration of exploitation may be linked to higher levels of mental distress.

However, one of the key findings of this study is that evidence on trafficked people’s experiences of violence and of physical, mental and sexual health problems is extremely limited: there is an enormous gap in research on the health of trafficked men, trafficked children and people who have been trafficked for labour exploitation.

Dr Oram from the Health Service and Population Research Department at the IoP at King’s says: ‘We know that people who have been trafficked experience serious health problems which will require a coordinated response by health care providers and other support services. More research is urgently needed to understand the physical and psychological damage associated with human trafficking.’

Dr Oram adds: ‘There is no sign that human trafficking is abating and we need better health interventions to help the thousands of men, women and children who are trafficked every year.’

The review was conducted as part of Dr Oram’s doctoral research, which was funded by an Economic and Social Research Council studentship. Dr Oram and Professor Louise Howard are supported by the NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research scheme.

For full paper: Oram S et al. ‘Prevalence and Risk of Violence and the Physical, Mental, and Sexual Health Problems Associated with Human Trafficking: Systematic Review’ PLoS Medicine (2012) doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001224 

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