Five reasons why human trafficking is a public health issue

Five reasons why human trafficking is a public health issue

By JOHN BARRA

In recent years as we learn more about the atrocity of human trafficking and the myriad of services and collaborations needed to combat it, it has become exceedingly clear that this is not just a criminal justice or social issue alone. We cannot legislate trafficking away, nor arrest our way out of it and providing survivor support alone will not solve the problem.  There is a suitable umbrella to muster our resources and build the relationships and skills needed to combat this issue. This umbrella is not focused on individuals, but the health of the entire population. Using a public health frame work to combat this issue has a great deal of benefits, here are the top 5:

  1. Public Health Is Predicated on Evidence-Based Research.

There is still a lot we do not know about trafficking and traffickers and using a public health framework would consolidate many small grass-roots organizations that may not be equipped to collect and interpret data. By consolidating our information and taking an epidemiological approach in the same way we would track a disease outbreak, we would be able to turn information into evidence. Evidence is what determines when or if interventions will take place and drives funding and policy.

2. Human Trafficking Contributes to Global and Local Health Burdens.

While sexually transmitted infections may be the first thing that comes to mind, human trafficking can help to spread many other communicable diseases, and victims and survivors cope with a plethora of other health issues. While physical ailments like malnutrition are common amongst survivors, mental health is also a pressing concern. PTSD, depression, anxiety and cognitive and developmental disorders are all risk factors AND consequences of human trafficking. While treating the individual survivors is important, the paradigm needs to expand to get health care professionals involved in prevention, awareness and research. This will enable us to identify victims and allocate resources to help combat human trafficking.

3. A Public Health Approach Determines Who Intervenes.   

This would greatly expand the stakeholder who would be engaged. Engaging and empowering communities to combat human trafficking while also educating them would turn entire communities into informed reporters. Framing the issue as an attack on the public’s health vice an individual issue would enlist communities in the fight to end human trafficking.

4. The Public Health Framework Would Improve How We Intervene.

The health field recognizes that there is more to being healthy than not being sick. As such it would allow for a wide range of assistance and support, as there is more to being free than not being trafficked. This lens would also enable us to identify and tailor specific interventions to at risk populations. Creating interventions that are culturally specific has been shown to be much more effective than a universal approach.

5. The Public Cannot Be Healthy While Trafficking Occurs.

How can we, as a population call ourselves healthy while we allow other human beings to be bought and sold like livestock. Human trafficking is a pandemic as prevalent as any outbreak. It is more infectious than the worst virus, contaminating the soul of our society.  It is part of a cycle moral degradation that is preventing the public from being healthy and well. The goal of public health is a healthy population…human trafficking is preventing us from achieving those goals.

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