Human trafficking and health: a conceptual model to inform policy, intervention and research

Soc Sci Med. 2011 Jul;73(2):327-35. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.05.028. Epub 2011 Jun 30.


Human trafficking is an international crime renowned for extreme forms of violence against women, men and children. Although trafficking-related violence has been well-documented, the health of trafficked persons has been a largely neglected topic. For people who are trafficked, health risks and consequences may begin before they are recruited into the trafficking process, continue throughout the period of exploitation and persist even after individuals are released. Policy-making, service provision and research often focus narrowly on criminal violations that occur during the period of exploitation, regularly overlooking the health implications of trafficking. Similarly, the public health sector has not yet incorporated human trafficking as a health concern. We present a conceptual model that highlights the migratory and exploitative nature of a multi-staged trafficking process, which includes: 'recruitment', travel-transit', 'exploitation' and 'integration' or 'reintegration', and for some trafficked persons, 'detention' and 're-trafficking' stages. Trafficked persons may suffer from physical, sexual and psychological harm, occupational hazards, legal restrictions and difficulties associated with being marginalised or stigmatised. Researchers and decision-makers will benefit from a theoretical approach that conceptualizes trafficking and health as a multi-staged process of cumulative harm. To address a health risk such as trafficking, which spans geographical boundaries and involves multiple sectors, including immigration and law enforcement, labour, social and health services, interventions must be coordinated between nations and across sectors to promote the protection and recovery of people who are trafficked.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Concept Formation*
  • Crime / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Research*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology*
  • Violence / psychology*
  • Women's Health