1. Callister, Lynn Clark PhD, RN, FAAN

Article Content

The tragedy of human trafficking (HT) violates human rights and is a 21st century pandemic with significant adverse effects on global health. According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2016), there are 21 million trafficked people globally, including 5.5 million children. Victims of trafficking are primarily women, girls, and children. The major categories of HT are sexual exploitation, forced labor, and domestic servitude (Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, 2016). Migrants, and particularly refugees, are especially vulnerable to being victimized. Trafficking may lead to modern-day slavery, and physical and sexual violence with profound deterioration of emotional, physical, and spiritual health.


According to a study surveying nurses in the United States, there is a lack of awareness among nurses about trafficking, which may contribute to nurses missing the significant physical and mental health issues common in victims of trafficking preventing their being provided with assistance (Ramnauth, Benitez, Logan, Abraham, & Gillum, 2018). Nurses can make important differences in identifying HT and providing much-needed help. As per the recent American Academy of Nursing policy brief on nursing response to human trafficking, Nurses are critical to the identification of trafficked persons [and] effective promotion of their physical, mental, and cognitive health (Speck, Mitchell, Ekroos, Sanchez, & Messias, 2018, p. 407). The Academy strongly supports the promotion of health and safety in persons affected by human trafficking (p. 409), with the recommendation that every emergency department (ED) have nurses on duty 24/7/365 who are educated in forensic nursing.


Chisolm-Straker et al. (2016) highlight the importance of healthcare providers seeing the unseen (p. 1220) in victims of HT. In a case report of a victim presenting to the ED, numerous encounters with multiple healthcare professionals failed to result in identification of critical issues. An ED nurse certified as a sexual assault nurse examiner conducted a forensic interview with the 19-year-old woman who reported on being forced to have sexual activities with strangers as well as emotional abuse and isolation from family and friends. The key role of this nurse described in the case study provides evidence that detection and facilitation of appropriate treatment for victims of trafficking are essential in both EDs and primary healthcare settings.


Human trafficking education for nurses should include how to identify HT such as interviewing skills, treatment of physical and psychosocial symptoms including trauma, safety measures to help victims exit from HT, resources for victims of HT, and recognition of the costs of HT (Ramnauth et al., 2018; Scannell, MacDonald, Berger, & Boyer, 2018). This type of education can make a significant difference in victims being saved and provided with the assistance that they need because when nurses have adequate knowledge of HT, they can take the necessary proactive steps to help. January 11, 2019, has been designated by the White House as the National Human Trafficking and Slavery Prevention Day. The focus is on increasing awareness, empathy, and change in order to free the girls and women and children who are victims. Perinatal nurses can play a significant role in identifying victims and helping them escape to safety.




Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses. (2016). Human trafficking (Position Statement). Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 45(3), 458-460. doi:10.1016/j.jogn.2016.04.001 [Context Link]


Chisolm-Straker M., Baldwin S., Gaigbe-Togbe B., Ndukwe N., Johnson P. N., Richardson L. D. (2016). Health care and human trafficking: We are seeing the unseen. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 27(3), 1220-1233. doi:10.1353/hpu.2016.0131 [Context Link]


Ramnauth T., Benitez M., Logan B., Abraham S. P., Gillum D. (2018). Nurses' awareness regarding human trafficking. International Journal of Nursing, 32(2), 76-87. doi:10.20849/ijsn.v3i2.389 [Context Link]


Scannell M., MacDonald A. E., Berger A., Boyer N. (2018). Human trafficking: How nurses can make a difference. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 14(2), 117-121. doi:10.1097/JFN.0000000000000203 [Context Link]


Speck P. M., Mitchell S. A., Ekroos R. A., Sanchez R. V., Messias D. K. H. (2018). Policy brief on the nursing response to human trafficking. Nursing Outlook, 66(4), 407-411. doi:10.1016/j.outlook.2018.06.004 [Context Link]


United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2016). Global report on trafficking in persons. Geneva, Switzerland: Author. Retrieved from[Context Link]