National Symposium on the Health Needs of Human Trafficking Victims: Post-Symposium Brief. Sub-Populations of Human Trafficking that Require Specialized Attention


Domestic victims of human trafficking were a sub-population discussed frequently throughout the symposium. While the majority of human trafficking victims in the United States are U.S. citizens, law enforcement, medical practitioners, and social service providers all pointed out that the resources for domestic victims are not comparable to those available for international victims. They observed that shelter is one of the most inadequate resources for domestic victims. While advocates for victims of domestic violence have effectively demonstrated the need for and benefits of shelters, social service practitioners note these shelters typically do not have the necessary personnel or resources to support victims of human trafficking, especially victims of labor trafficking. In some cases, female victims of trafficking refer to pimps as boyfriends, thus confusing whether cases involve domestic violence or trafficking. Additionally, shelters tend to be for females and, therefore, unavailable for male and transgender victims of human trafficking. Law enforcement and community organizations report having a difficult time locating adequate short- and long-term housing for domestic victims who escape their trafficking situations. As a result, many domestic minor victims are housed in juvenile detention centers, which often do not recognize or treat these youth as victims of a crime, but rather as perpetrators. A number of attendees identified the need for additional resources to establish specialized short- and long-term housing options for domestic victims, particularly minors.

Social service providers also noted that accessing public benefits can be difficult for domestic victims of human trafficking. They report that while programs such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) exist, they have eligibility requirements that may limit participation by domestic victims. For example, the Food Stamp program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) generally requires applicants to have proof of address, a birth certificate, and a Social Security card, which most domestic victims do not have at the time they escape their trafficking situations. While victims can apply for various forms of identification, this process can be cumbersome and time-consuming, leaving victims at high risk for re-victimization and hindering attempts to receive public assistance. Additionally, prior arrests for solicitation or other offenses often result in ineligibility for food stamps and other programs. TANF requires individuals to be at least 18 years of age and have at least one child. As a result, social service providers report that minors with children and adults without children are generally ineligible for this program.

Adults and children with special needs are also likely to require particular attention and services. Social service providers and researchers report that individuals with special needs are disproportionately targeted by traffickers. They added that these victims may be more vulnerable due to mental impairments as well as their need for financial resources to pay for medical care. Very little is known about how best to treat and work with this sub-population in the short-term as well as what resources are needed for their long-term care.

Victims of labor trafficking may also require special attention. For example, they may suffer permanent and/or chronic medical conditions requiring intensive and lifelong treatment. For children, these medical conditions can severely affect their physical development. One example of this is children exposed to chemicals harming their respiratory system and hindering proper lung development. In addition, victims of labor trafficking may also have experienced sexual assault during their trafficking experience, putting them at risk for an increased number of associated health and mental heath issues. Since little research exists regarding labor trafficking, including the number of victims and their needs, as well as the health consequences of labor trafficking in the United States, more work is needed to ensure the health care needs of this sub-population are properly identified and met.

Attendees also pointed out that children of adult victims require specialized attention, especially children who are at heightened risk for trafficking as a result of their mothers being in prostitution. Social service providers report that more resources are needed to effectively identify and prevent these children from becoming victims themselves. Gay, lesbian, and transgender youth are also at elevated risk for trafficking according to victim service providers. When these children escape their trafficking situations, they often need specialized support and services to help them overcome significant identity issues that can result from their trafficking experiences. For example, social service providers report that domestic, female victims of trafficking often initially identify themselves as being lesbian then later identify as straight or bi-sexual. There is little known regarding the cause of this phenomenon or whether these identity issues existed prior to their trafficking experience; however, providers note that this issue of identity is one that many domestic female victims struggle with as part of their recovery. Children and adults can also experience re-victimization if their images have been posted online. Medical professionals serving victims of human trafficking cited online images as a major factor in computer aversion, which can significantly affect completing school or attaining gainful employment. Additionally, representatives of anti-trafficking organizations report that more attention is required for children who are trafficked into the United States for the purposes of adoption, as well as U.S. children trafficked abroad.

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