Trafficked women experience violence and poor health

May 29, 2012

Women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation experience violence and poor physical and mental health but 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 study by UK researchers published in this week’s 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, so far, the health consequences and public health implications of human trafficking have received little international attention.

So a team of researchers from London, UK, led by Siân Oram from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, examined all relevant published studies in order 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.

The authors say: “findings from studies to date indicate that trafficking is associated with serious health problems and suggest that trafficked people are likely to require a coordinated response by health care providers and other support services.”

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 labor exploitation.

The authors conclude: “Further research is needed on the health of trafficked men, individuals trafficked for other forms of exploitation, and effective health intervention approaches.”

They add: “As there is no sign that human trafficking is abating, we need more and better information on trafficked people’s health needs and experiences, including evidence on interventions to mitigate the physical and psychological damage associated with this global crime.”

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In their June 2011 editorial, the PLoS Medicine Editors highlighted the problem of human trafficking and the lack of robust data regarding its health impacts. This editorial was part of the PLoS Medicine Migration & Health Collection.

Funding: The review was conducted as part of SO’s doctoral research, which was funded by an Economic and Social Research Council studentship (ES/F024703/1). SO and LMH are supported by the NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research scheme (RP-PG-0108-10084). LMH receives salary support from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Mental Health Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: Cathy Zimmerman is lead author on one of the papers included in this review and co-author on a further two. The authors have declared that no other competing interests exist.

Citation: Oram S, Stöckl H, Busza J, Howard LM, Zimmerman C (2012) Prevalence and Risk of Violence and the Physical, Mental, and Sexual Health Problems Associated with Human Trafficking: Systematic Review. PLoS Med 9(5): e1001224. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001224

Contact: Clare Weaver
press@plos.org
44-122-344-2834
Public Library of Science


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