Human Trafficking: The Role of the Health Care Provider

Tiffany Dovydaitis, RN, WHCNP


J Midwifery Womens Health. 2010;55(5):462-467. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Human trafficking is a major public health problem, both domestically and internationally. Health care providers are often the only professionals to interact with trafficking victims who are still in captivity. The expert assessment and interview skills of providers contribute to their readiness to identify victims of trafficking. The purpose of this article is to provide clinicians with knowledge on trafficking and give specific tools that they may use to assist victims in the clinical setting. Definitions, statistics, and common health care problems of trafficking victims are reviewed. The role of the health care provider is outlined through a case study and clinical practice tools are provided. Suggestions for future research are also briefly addressed.


"…[T]rafficking can only exist in an atmosphere of public, professional, and academic indifference."[1]

Human trafficking is a global public health problem. Although difficult to quantify because of its underground nature, there are approximately 800,000 people trafficked across international borders annually. Of those, 80% are women or girls; 50% of these females are minors.[2–4] In the United States alone, 50,000 persons are trafficked into the country every year, and there are approximately 400,000 domestic minors involved in trafficking.[2,5] These statistics easily debunk the common myths that human trafficking only happens in other countries and that those who are trafficked in the United States are always of international origin. In fact, the United States is one of the largest market/destinations for trafficking in the world, second only to Germany.[3]

Health care providers are one of the few professionals likely to interact with trafficked women and girls while they are still in captivity.[2,5] One study found that 28% of trafficked women saw a health care professional while still in captivity. This represents a serious missed opportunity for intervention.[6] Health care providers are in a unique position to identify victims of trafficking and provide important physical and psychological care for victims while in captivity and after. This article provides clinicians with knowledge on trafficking and offers specific tools that they can use to assist victims in the clinical setting.


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