Health Implications of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is defined as “a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services, or commercial sex” [1]. Survivors can experience debt bondage, organ removal, forced marriage, etc [2]. The effects of human trafficking are far reaching, including physical trauma like sexually transmitted diseases, malnourishment, substance abuse problems, and even psychological trauma, such as feelings of shame and humiliation, depression, and panic attacks [3]. Researching the physical and psychological implications will prove beneficial to assess what survivors need to improve their health after a human trafficking incident.

Human trafficking can happen to anyone, regardless of race, class, education, and other socioeconomic attributes. However, it is most common among women and girls, who comprise 71% of the 40 million people impacted by this form of modern day slavery [4]. Traffickers also tend to exploit individuals who are of a lower socioeconomic status, and global gender inequality makes females a prime target. Many girls are expected to drop out of school and get married to carry out a life of servitude. This prevents them from attaining adequate education compared to their male counterparts, therefore making them more susceptible to feeding into traffickers' claims about a “better” future and life [5].

Human traffickers ultimately use their victims for forced labor and sexual exploitation, which can impact an individual’s short term and long term health. Forced labor ma include long working hours and strenuous tasks that require a greater nutritional input, which they are unable to attain because of their lack of autonomy, and dependence on the trafficker. Malnutrition in childhood and adolescence, a time when nutrient need is greatest, could result in abnormal development. Adolescents require more protein due to an increase in muscle and skeletal mass, more calcium for bone growth, and more folic acid—folate in natural form—to aid in tissue synthesis. Girls also require more iron due to expansion in blood value as a result of menstruation [6].

In addition to malnutrition, human trafficking can lead to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Because children are easier to control, traffickers use them to perform sexual acts, increasing their risk of contracting HIV and developing AIDS, and becoming pregnant [6]. Although there is not a direct causal relationship between human trafficking and HIV prevalence, there has been a link in a few studies such as the one done on Nepalese human trafficking survivors. The 2007 study found that “out of 287 repatriated Nepalese sex-trafficked girls and women, 109 (38.0%) tested positive for HIV” [7]. More studies have to be conducted in order to deduce a causal relationship. In addition, girls who are trafficked are more likely to experience unwanted, premature pregnancies, which makes them at risk for complications, infant mortality, and maternal mortality [6]. Compounded with the fact that expecting mothers are not meeting their nutritional needs despite having to feed themselves and their child, unplanned pregnancies pose a major health risk to individuals who are trafficked.

This article highlighted sexual exploitation and forced labor with a particular focus on women and girls, but human trafficking can impact anyone and can involve other forms of exploitation such as organ trafficking. To address the different experiences of different survivors, a systemic response must be implemented so that their needs are being met. This includes medical, dental, and sexual health, and mental health services. Although they can’t erase survivors’ experiences, these efforts will aid in providing a steadfast path to coping and recovery.


  1. Human trafficking. The United States Department of Justice. (2022, February 1). Retrieved May 22, 2022, from

  2. The crime: Defining human trafficking. United Nations : Office on Drugs and Crime. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2022, from

  3. Resources: Common health issues seen in victims of human trafficking. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2022, from

  4. Global estimates of Modern Slavery - International Labour Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2022, from

  5. Deshpande, N. A., & Nour, N. M. (2013). Sex trafficking of women and girls. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from

  6. Lisemby, E. (n.d.). Nutrition needs and best practices for formerly trafficked female children and adolescents. Field Exchange 52. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from

  7. Silverman JG;Decker MR;Gupta J;Maheshwari A;Willis BM;Raj A; (n.d.). HIV prevalence and predictors of infection in sex-trafficked Nepalese girls and women. JAMA. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from

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