Every January, we acknowledge National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and shine a spotlight on the toll human trafficking takes on individuals, families, and communities. More than 27 million people experience human trafficking globally and cases have been reported in every state and territory in the U.S.
As a public health issue, trafficking disproportionately affects populations served by HHS. Traffickers focus on youth and adults whose vulnerability is increased because of poverty, homelessness, family instability, and other forms of trauma. People may develop acute, long-term, and intergenerational health and behavioral health consequences from injuries, hazardous working conditions, and traumatic experiences of violence and abuse associated with their trafficking.
With a problem of this magnitude, health care providers must be part of the response to and prevention of trafficking. I was just in Arizona in December, where I spoke with doctors and nurses at a group of local clinics operating in the towns of Douglas and Bisbee near the U.S.-Mexico border. They described working with women who have experienced trafficking and connecting them with multiple kinds of medical care and interventions to address their physical, behavioral, and emotional needs. In addition to offering these kinds of care, medical professionals can help make other care professionals aware of risk factors and warning signs that they may be interacting with someone who has experienced trafficking. Health professionals can also offer language translation and culturally appropriate care whenever possible and can work with other social services in their community to ensure a continuity of care and well-being for people impacted by trafficking who come through their doors.
According to one study, 67% of trafficking survivors accessed health care services while being trafficked, yet their situation was unrecognized because not every health care professional may feel equipped to identify and respond to the needs of these patients.
To address this problem, HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Office on Trafficking in Persons, in partnership with the Office on Women’s Health developed, SOAR to Health and Wellness, a nationally recognized, accredited training program to help health care and social service providers identify, treat, and respond to patients who have experienced trafficking. SOAR is grounded in a trauma-informed and person-centered approach that respects the dignity of trafficking survivors and focuses on their well-being. Accredited SOAR Online training modules are free at the TRAIN Learning Management System.
Health care professionals can also review core competencies for Human Trafficking Response in Health Care and Behavioral Health System, developed through a collaboration between health care associations, advocacy organizations, and consultants with lived experience in trafficking. The competencies guide health care professionals, organizations, researchers, and educators through institutionalizing a comprehensive public health approach to human trafficking across health care and behavioral health systems.
Health care leaders should also be concerned about the role of forced labor in health and public health supply chains. We are working to ensure access to health care goods and services while protecting the welfare of workers in global supply chains.
Last year, HHS Secretary Becerra formed the HHS Task Force to Prevent Human Trafficking to implement the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and create greater awareness about the scope of this problem. I’m honored to co-chair this effort with ACF Assistant Secretary Contreras. We are working with many dedicated people across the Department who share the vision of bringing relief to survivors today and, one day, ending human trafficking.