Analyzing Annals: Human Trafficking: The Role of Medicine in Interrupting the Cycle of Abuse and Violence

Human trafficking, a form of modern slavery, has profound consequences for individuals and society. Victims frequently present to a variety of medical settings while being trafficked. Health care professionals should be trained to recognize the symptoms and signs of trafficking to provide victim-centered, trauma-informed medical care and, when desired, referrals to programs that can help interrupt the cycle of abuse.

Use this paper to:

  • Define “human trafficking.” Who is at risk? How common is it? Are you shocked by the statistics in the paper's introduction? Have you ever thought about this problem occurring in your community?
  • What health problems are associated with human trafficking? Use Table 2.
  • What sorts of complaints are these patients commonly seen for by medical professionals?
  • The paper quotes a study that found that >85% of female survivors of exploitation had been evaluated by a medical provider at least once before, without identification of the problem. Might we be missing the clues? What clues might help us identify a victim of trafficking? Review Table 3.
  • How should we approach potential victims? Note the author's caution regarding the potential harms of an aggressive pursuit of victim disclosure. What is the best approach? Who should be called to help? Note the resources provided in Table 5.
  • What is “trauma-informed care”? How might our own reactions—even anger—at the “negative” behavior of trauma victims impede the provision of care, and even cause harm?
  • What programs are available to you to help identify and aid victims of human trafficking? Talk to someone familiar with these programs about available resources. If no programs are available, organize action within your system. How will they start, and how will they set goals to make sure their effort does not “fall through the cracks”?

Annals of Internal Medicine is the premier internal medicine academic journal published by the American College of Physicians (ACP). It is one of the most widely cited and influential specialty medical journals in the world.

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