Caring for Trafficked Persons: A Guide for Health Providers

For many trafficked persons, the physical and psychological aftermath of trafficking can be severe and enduring. Health care providers may come into contact with victims of trafficking at different stages of the trafficking process and at different stages of their recovery. A trafficked person may be referred to a health care provider; a patient may disclose a trafficking experience; or a provider may detect signs that suggest an individual has been trafficked. For health practitioners, diagnosing and treating trafficked persons can be exceptionally challenging. The informed and attentive health care provider can play an important role in assisting and treating individuals who may have suffered unspeakable and repeated abuse.

Caring for Trafficked Persons: Guidance for Health Providers is the result of a project that brings together the experience of a broad range of experts from international organizations, universities and civil society in addressing the consequences of human trafficking on health. Developed with the support of the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), and led by IOM and the Gender Violence and Health Centre of the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the handbook provides practical, non-clinical advice to help the concerned health provider understand human trafficking, recognize some of the associated health problems and consider safe and appropriate approaches to providing health care for trafficked persons.

"Health has been a neglected area of study. We need a greater knowledge base on the health needs of individuals who are exploited in different sectors and in various ways, and how to return their health and well-being."
--Dr. Cathy Zimmerman, London School for Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Although the guide focuses on trafficked persons, it provides information that may be useful for meeting the health needs of other marginalized or abused populations. Caring for Trafficked Persons can be downloaded from IOM’s online bookstore.

Human Trafficking and Health

Evidence on human trafficking and exploitation indicates that no region of the world is free of the practice. The widespread nature of trafficking suggests that a health provider may at some point come into contact with a person who has been trafficked. For health care providers, trafficking in persons is best understood as a very serious health risk, because trafficking, like other forms of violence, is associated with physical and psychological harm.

Victims of trafficking, like victims of other forms of abuse, sustain injuries and illnesses that the health sector must address in a safe and confidential way. For a trafficked person, contact with someone in the health sector may be the first – or only – opportunity to explain what has happened or to ask for help.

How Health Providers Can Help

Caring for persons who have been trafficked requires special attention to an individual’s health, safety and well-being. Individuals who have been through traumatic events need to regain a sense of safety, dignity and control over their bodies and actions. They need to be encouraged to seek information, question their options and assert their choices. Health care providers can help foster feelings of security, self-esteem and self-determination by adopting approaches to care that emphasize confidentiality, information-giving, informed consent and respect for individual decision-making. Practitioners may help protect patients from present and future harm by ensuring that their services and staff are sensitive to the vulnerabilities of trafficked persons and that referral options are safe, appropriate and convenient.

The Project

To date, there is limited research-based data on the health of trafficked persons. Most existing evidence on health is based on individuals availing of post-trafficking services. This project was developed to pull together the lessons learned by service providers and other partners in caring for trafficked persons into a practical, actionable book for health care providers worldwide. The expert group initiative was designed to draw on both existing published literature and on-the-ground practical experience, through the creation of a broad group of global experts as authors.

Key Objectives

  • Contribute to improved quality of health care for trafficked persons worldwide
  • Help health care providers to better manage the health consequences of trafficking in persons
  • Produce a guide that will serve as a recognized standard for managing the health consequences of trafficking in persons

Beneficiaries

  • Health care providers
  • Victims of trafficking
  • Other victims of abuse and exploitation

Concrete Benefits

  • A guide based on current knowledge on health and trafficking in persons and existing best practices is widely disseminated to health care providers, serving as a recognized standard in caring for trafficked persons
  • Health care providers are better prepared to give trafficked persons appropriate assistance
  • Trafficked persons receive enhanced quality of health care

Principal IOM Activities

  • Establishment of an expert group (worldwide experts from civil society, international organizations, universities, and governments)
  • Establishment of a peer review group
  • Facilitation of the expert group in the drafting of the guidance document, including multiple revisions
  • Review workshop to review the draft and peer review comments
  • Production of the book