Health Consequences of Human Trafficking

by Michael_Koger

The health consequences of human trafficking can be mentally and physically quite serious.

Modern day slavery, or human trafficking, shares many characteristics with domestic violence. Trafficking involves coercion to work with threats, dehumanization, and ownership by the employer. The victims may be men or women and of any age group. Moreover, there is physical constraint or restriction of freedom [1].

The scheme entails recruitment, movement, involuntary servitude, fraud, debt bondage, and slavery. The agents may force them into marriage. Migrant farming or participation in armed services may also be a requirement, and some of the workers become beggars. In many cases, the subject has to perform sweatshop work with garments or textiles [1].

Legal Implications

In general, the workers are put in awkward physical, psychological, social, legal, and financial circumstances.  For example, the agents often confiscate legal identity documents and transport the workers to countries away from their home.  The victims subsequently may undergo deportation because they are illegal immigrants there.  They may also go to prison as they have followed instructions to engage in prostitution or work in that country without a permit or citizenship [1, 2].

In some cases, traffickers are a parent, spouse, partner, or friend of the victim.

Medical Consequences

There are several possible indicators of these relationships.  The occurrence of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, unsafe abortions, branding of the skin, or tattoos which the patient does not want can suggest an abusive relationship.  There may be broken teeth or other dental problems which result from physical violence.  They may suffer from malnutrition, injuries, sleep deprivation, heart disease, and back problems [1].

Health care workers, therefore, must consider these presentations as a sign that the client is in an abusive situation.  In fact, the medical provider may be the first person to detect and report it to legal authorities [1].  This applies to any patient who comes to a health care facility for a routine physical examination, gynecologic evaluation, prenatal care, or medical emergency.

It is especially suspicious when the patient or someone else pays with cash for the medical visit.  This enables the agent to conceal identity or movement of the victim which checks or credit cards will reveal.  In many instances, the workers have to frequently change addresses so that members of the community do not have enough time to notice that there is something odd about the situation [1].

These arrangements will, of course, lead to a variety of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, flat affect, feelings of helplessness, culture shock, shame, posttraumatic stress disorder, psychosomatic conditions, and suicidal thoughts or attempts.  Should the person leave the situation, he or she may be left in a country where they are not citizens and become refugees [1, 2].


Human trafficking, a major public health problem across the globe, is a challenge to detect and manage.


  1. University at Albany.  School of Public Health.  (2013).  Human trafficking:  A public health perspective on a human rights issue.  Retrieved December 1, 2013.
  2. World Health Organization.  (2012).  Understanding and addressing violence against women.  Human trafficking.  Retrieved December 1, 2013.
  3. The photo shows illicit drug paraphernalia.  Reprinted with permission from Centers for Disease Control/Debora Cartagena.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.

Updated: 12/06/2013, Michael_Koger
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