Trafficked individuals face severe physical and mental health problems

Trafficked individuals face severe physical and mental health problems
Trafficked individuals face severe physical and mental health problems

Victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor have severe health concerns, say researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom and the International Organization for Migration.

Men, women, and children who are trafficked suffer because of extremely dangerous working and conditions, and severe psychological and physical abuse. The hidden nature of trafficking makes it difficult to the numbers of people involved, but recent findings suggest that 18 million or more people are trafficked into forced labor and the sex trade.

Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,015 who were entering post-trafficking services in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. The participants had been trafficked into factories (13 percent), fishing (27 percent), and sex work (32 percent). They were asked about their living and working conditions, violent episodes, and their health. Researchers measured the participants for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Our findings highlight that survivors of trafficking urgently need access to health care to address a range of needs, and that mental health care should be an essential component of this,” said Dr Ligia Kiss, the study’s lead author and a lecturer of Social Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Research is needed to identify effective forms of psychological support that can be easily implemented in low-resource settings and in multilingual, multicultural populations.”

Study findings:

48 percent of the participants had been physically and/or sexually abused
35 percent of the women and girls reported sexual violence
47 percent were threatened
20 percent were locked in a room
70 percent of those with available data worked seven days a week
30 percent worked at least 11 hours every day
Many participants experienced violence such as burning and choking, and knife and dog attacks

Health outcomes:

Participants who worked long hours, had bad living conditions, restricted freedom, and experienced threats or severe violence were more likely to report mental health issues
The most common physical health problems are dizzy spells, headaches, and back pain
61.2 percent reported symptoms of depression
42.8 percent reported anxiety symptoms
38.9 percent reported PTSD
5.2 had attempted suicide in the previous month
22 percent were seriously injured at work by deep cuts, injuries to the eyes, neck, and back, and/or the loss of a body part, and only 28 percent of this group reported receiving medical care

“Our study shows there is no single profile of a trafficked person – we spoke to men, women and children of all different ages, from different countries, and with a range of experiences of exploitation,” Dr Cathy Zimmerman, study author from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said. “We believe the wide range of labour sectors in which abuse occurs points to the need for greater government regulation, stringent health and safety standards, and regular inspections of sectors that are susceptible to human trafficking.”

“Exploitation of human beings is age-old,” Dr. Zimmerman said. “Although it is disheartening to see that human trafficking exists in such proportions in the 21st century, it is encouraging that various forms of these violations are increasingly recognized for what they are: modern-day slavery.”

The researchers acknowledged that there were limitations to the study because their sample only involved clients of post-trafficking services instead of trafficked individuals in the general population. They do point out that the study had a large sample size across three countries in a variety of settings such as government shelters, NGOs, and support centers for women and children. The research precedes a detailed report that will be launched in Thailand.


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