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About the Institute on Healthcare and Human Trafficking

The Institute on Healthcare and Human Trafficking operates within the Stephanie V. Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children as a collaboration between the Center for Safe and Healthy Children, the Mark Chaffin Center for Healthy Development within the School of Public Health at Georgia State University, and the Emory University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. It acts as a central resource for medical and behavioral health professionals seeking information on sex and labor trafficking involving children and adults.

Our goals are to:

  • Raise awareness among health professionals about labor and sex trafficking of children and adults.
  • Improve the ability of health professionals to recognize potential victims and respond appropriately.
  • Contribute to the body of research on human trafficking.

In pursuit of these goals, the Institute on Healthcare and Human Trafficking:

  • Provides a clearinghouse of existing resources and research for prevention, identification, intervention and treatment.
  • Offers online and on-site training and education to medical and behavioral health professionals working with adults and children.
  • Provides a calendar of events related to human trafficking within the U.S.
  • Provides technical assistance to health professionals seeking to design office, clinic and/or hospital protocols or develop programs on human trafficking.
  • Conducts research on human trafficking.

A significant challenge in trying to address the complex problem of human trafficking is knowing just how widespread it is. At the Institute on Healthcare and Human Trafficking, we recognize that human trafficking is a public health issue. This perspective guides our purpose as well as the trainings and educational resources we offer.

Reliable estimates of the prevalence of human trafficking are difficult to ascertain, given the criminal nature of the activity, differing definitions of human trafficking, lack of a centralized database, underreporting by victims and various methodological challenges encountered in research. Globally, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and others estimated that 24.9 million people were victims of forced labor in 2016 (including forced labor in the private economy, state-imposed forced labor, forced sexual exploitation of adults and commercial sexual exploitation of children); 18% of these were children (4.5 million). Of the 15.4 million living in a forced marriage, 37% (5.7 million) were children. Approximately 1 million children were victims of commercial sexual exploitation in 2016 (excluding forced marriage). However, it is important to keep in mind that any estimate of prevalence must be accompanied by an understanding of the inherent challenges involved with measurement and the likely inaccuracies associated with those challenges.

Reference: International Labour Organization. Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage. Geneva, Switzerland: Author. Available here. Accessed on Dec. 12, 2017.

Viewing human trafficking through a public health lens, we can use a multidisciplinary approach to identify and characterize the individual, relationship, community and societal vulnerabilities that facilitate victimization. Based on methodologically rigorous and sound research, we can design and scientifically evaluate programs, strategies and policies of prevention and intervention. A public health framework acknowledges that human trafficking affects a large population, directly or indirectly, and impacts the health and well-being of the society. It encourages the use of limited resources to target those at highest risk. In addition, a public health approach recognizes that we cannot combat human trafficking in a vacuum. We must simultaneously address other major problems that marginalize our community members and increase their vulnerability: poverty, substance use, mental health disorders and community violence, to name a few.

At the Institute on Healthcare and Human Trafficking, our goal is to address human trafficking with a public health response. We offer healthcare professionals resources for primary and secondary prevention through training, education, technical assistance, a clearinghouse of resources and ongoing research on human trafficking.

Research suggests that a high percentage of victims will, at some point during their exploitation, seek medical care. In one study of adolescent and adult sex trafficking survivors in the U.S., 88% reported seeking attention from a healthcare provider.1 It is imperative that medical and behavioral healthcare professionals, including physicians, psychologists, nurses, advanced practitioners, counselors and social workers, are educated about human trafficking and prepared to recognize potential victims and respond appropriately. There is a need for a centralized resource for healthcare providers to obtain high-quality education and training about human trafficking as well as to easily access resources from a wide variety of sources. The Institute on Healthcare and Human Trafficking is that hub.

1 Lederer, L. J. (2014). Annals Health Law.

Our Advocacy Work

The Institute on Healthcare and Human Trafficking works with organizations worldwide to raise awareness of human trafficking. Our representatives are part of the following national committees and national and international organizations:

  • National Advisory Committee (NAC) on the Sex Trafficking of Children and Youth in the United States (Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office on Trafficking in Persons): The role of the NAC is to advise the secretary and the attorney general on practical and general policies concerning improvements to the nation’s response to the sex trafficking of children and youth in the U.S.
  • National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center (NHTTAC) (Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office on Trafficking in Persons): The NHTTAC provides training and technical assistance to enhance the public health response to human trafficking and holistically builds the capacity of communities to identify and appropriately respond to the complex needs of trafficked persons.
  • International Society on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN): ISPCAN is an international multidisciplinary society of professionals dedicated to preventing and treating child abuse, neglect and exploitation.
  • Health, Education, Advocacy and Linkage (HEAL) Trafficking: HEAL is an international group of multidisciplinary professionals addressing human trafficking through a public health approach.
  • American Hospital Association Advisory Board on Human Trafficking.

Some of our recent advocacy activities include:

  • U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Summit, Washington, D.C. Presented on panel “Restoring Freedom/Empowering Victim Support.”
  • American Hospital Association convening on human trafficking, Washington D.C. Presented on work of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Institute on Healthcare and Human Trafficking.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) Human Trafficking and Child Trauma Expert Panel Meeting, Washington D.C.