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Human Trafficking: Health Concerns

Five images depicting ordinary people from different races, cultures, and age groups.

Current knowledge indicates that trafficked individuals are exposed to health risks before, during, and after exploitation.


Physical Health

Trafficked individuals may be subject to extreme heat or cold, areas of poor ventilation, lack of medical care, sleep deprivation, extreme working hours, chemical hazards, repetitive motion activities, insufficient food or water, or lack of protective equipment. Additionally, those individuals exploited through sex trafficking may face repeated sexual encounters, unprotected sex, forced drug and/or alcohol use, and sexual abuse. 

The following list presents a representative range of the physical health risks associated with human trafficking:

  • Back Injuries / Pain
  • Gastrointestinal Infections
  • Hypothermia
  • Significant Weight Loss
  • Skin Infections 
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Dehydration
  • Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Mental Health

Individuals subjected to both labor and sex trafficking may face long-term mental health issues due to psychological and physical abuse. Men, women, and children may face social restrictions, economic abuse, emotional manipulation, forced isolation, culture shock, and legal insecurities during the trafficking process.

The following list presents some of the mental health affects associated with human trafficking: 

  • Suicidal Ideation and Attempts 
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic Disorder 
  • Hostility
  • Helplessness
  • Stress Disorders
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder 

In this Ted Talk, Susie Baldwin provides first hand experience to illustrate the importance of teaching health professionals to recognize the signs of human trafficking.

Researching Health Concerns

Explore the resources below to learn more about common symptoms, health rights and services for trafficked persons, and caring for a trafficked individual. 

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine | Caring For Trafficked Persons

World Health Organization | Human Trafficking 

Health & Human Services | Common Health Issues Seen in Victims of Human Trafficking

Searching a database can help you find articles, studies, and reviews focused on the health concerns of human trafficking. Click on the links below to start your search. 

PubMed              PsycINFO             CINAHL

The PsycINFO and CINAHL require current Duquesne University credentials. If you are not affiliated with Duquesne University, find a library near you and ask about access to research databases.