The relationship of trauma to mental disorders among trafficked and sexually exploited girls and women

Am J Public Health. 2010 Dec;100(12):2442-9. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.173229. Epub 2010 Oct 21.


Objectives: We explored the association between traumatic events and mental health among girls and women trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Methods: We used subscales of the Brief Symptom Inventory and Harvard Trauma Questionnaire to interview 204 trafficked girls and women in 7 posttrafficking service settings. Multivariate logistic regression models based on interview data were fitted for depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) separately and adjusted for pretrafficking abuse to determine impact of trafficking-related trauma exposures.

Results: Injuries and sexual violence during trafficking were associated with higher levels of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Sexual violence was associated with higher levels of PTSD (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 5.6; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.3, 25.4). More time in trafficking was associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety (AOR = 2.2; 95% CI = 1.1, 4.5). More time since trafficking was associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety but not of PTSD.

Conclusions: Our findings inform the emerging field of mental health care for trafficked persons by highlighting the importance of assessing severity and duration of trafficking-related abuses and need for adequate recovery time. Therapies for anxiety, PTSD, and mood disorders in low-resource settings should be evaluated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Work / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Violence / psychology
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology
  • Young Adult