Leading a Public Health Approach to Human Trafficking
Child sex trafficking is a pervasive violation of human rights in the United States and across the globe. The hidden, criminal nature of trafficking currently prevents us from capturing definitive data on the number of victims currently living in the U.S., but we know that Atlanta, in particular, is a high incidence city.
According to U.S. federal law, child sex trafficking involves engaging a person less than 18 years old in a commercial sex act (defined as sexual activity for which there is an exchange of something of value).
While general awareness of sex trafficking has grown in recent years, we currently lack evidence-based best practices to apply to community interventions to stop trafficking. At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we are taking the lead on overcoming this lack of knowledge. The Stephanie V. Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Children’s provides 24/7 clinical services for trafficking victims, including forensic interviews, behavioral health assessments and trauma-based therapy. Our research in the field of sex trafficking is shaping a key change in approaching trafficking, not only as a legal issue and a social problem, but also as a major public health crisis.
We must address child sex trafficking as a public health issue due to the numerous negative health complications associated with it. These can include traumatic injury from sexual and physical assault, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, malnutrition, depression with suicidality and self-harm, among others. In one recent study of child sex trafficking, 47 percent of victims reported a suicide attempt within the past year.
The healthcare community must become better prepared to offer comprehensive care to survivors. A growing body of research suggests that a majority of trafficking victims – on average, 80 percent – will see a healthcare provider at some point during their exploitation. However, victims rarely self-identify in a clinical setting. Healthcare providers could be powerful advocates for their patients, but only if they are equipped to recognize victims and respond appropriately.
With generous support from the Junior League of Atlanta, Children’s will launch the Institute for Healthcare and Human Trafficking (the Institute). The Institute is designed to improve the lives of children and adults affected by trafficking by enhancing medical and behavioral care through research, training and education.
We believe that efforts to prevent trafficking must be guided by evidence-based research. In this spirit, the Institute will house an online clearinghouse of research accessible to healthcare providers, community advocates, policymakers and parents. The Institute will be directed by Jordan Greenbaum, M.D., a world-renowned expert in the fields of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The Institute for Healthcare and Human Trafficking will focus on training healthcare providers to better recognize and help patients who have been trafficked. The Institute will train and educate physicians, psychologists, nurses, advanced practitioners, counselors and social workers working in a variety of healthcare settings, from emergency departments to small clinics. These high quality trainings will help transform Atlanta’s healthcare facilities into effective gateways to victim identification and intervention.
We are honored to collaborate with the Junior League of Atlanta in this endeavor. The Junior League’s long history of raising awareness on trafficking and mobilizing for change has provided the best possible model for the Institute. With the support of the Junior League, the impact of the Institute for Healthcare and Human Trafficking will extend beyond Atlanta and serve as a standard for other major cities in the U.S. and abroad.