Human trafficking and exploitation: guidance for health workers

Advice how to recognise and help victims of human trafficking and exploitation.

Identifying human trafficking

The relative invisibility of human trafficking means you may have treated a victim without recognising it.

There are no definitive symptoms by which to identify trafficking however a systematic review provided commonly reported indicators[24].

  • Does not speak the local language
  • Lack of official documents
  • Inconsistencies in presentations (names, dates, addresses etc.)
  • Not registered with a GP, school or nursery
  • Appear to be moving location frequently
  • Accompanied by someone who appears controlling
  • Symptoms associated with physical, psychological and sexual abuse
  • Appear to delay seeking treatment and be vague on their medical history

Victims of trafficking may present at health services with issues that include[25]:

  • Evidence of long-term multiple injuries
  • Indications of mental, physical and sexual trauma
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Pregnant, or a late booking over 24 weeks for maternity care
  • Disordered eating or poor nutrition
  • Evidence of self-harm
  • Dental pain
  • Fatigue
  • Non-specific symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Symptoms of psychiatric and psychological distress
  • Back pain, stomach pain, skin problems; headaches and dizzy spells

Key Point: Trafficked persons may have difficulty in articulating their fears or the nature of their health problems. They may not be familiar with the concept of ‘trafficking’ but instead blame themselves for bad luck or poor judgement. However, they might also be aware of their situation but view it as an improvement on their lives before. They may be in an unfamiliar culture with little awareness of their legal rights or of the availability of help and support.



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