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A Policy Brief prepared by the Research To Policy Collaboration with support from the Society for Community Research and Action
Approximately 40 million people worldwide, including many in the United States, are estimated to be victims of human trafficking — a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control both adults and children.1 Human trafficking can take many forms, such as forced and bonded labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sexual exploitation.
Awareness about human trafficking and the factors that make individuals and communities vulnerable has increased, but prevention efforts designed to proactively address known risk factors are lacking. Instead, efforts typically address exploitation after harm occurs.2 These downstream interventions contrast with primary prevention, which aims to prevent trafficking before it occurs by addressing underlying risks. Thus, policies are needed to promote comprehensive primary prevention efforts that address known risk factors for victimization using multi-tiered strategies.
Trafficking vulnerabilities occur at the individual, family/neighborhood, and societal levels (see table below).3-5 Lack of access to protection and justice make people vulnerable to trafficking.6 Traffickers tend to exploit the needs of potential victims, whether they are basic physical needs for housing and food or emotional needs, such as love and belongingness. The potential for exploitation is influenced by events across the life course, route of victimization,4 and gender.7 Prevention strategies can be tailored to the specific vulnerabilities and needs of individuals and communities.
Coordinated Primary Prevention Efforts by Local Task Forces should use data-driven approaches that first assess vulnerabilities for human trafficking at all levels and then implement research-informed prevention strategies, such as those listed in evidence-based practice registries.11 These strategies should leverage the six characteristics of primary prevention: (1) strengthening individual knowledge and skills; (2) promoting community education; (3) educating providers; (4) fostering coalitions and networks; (5) changing organizational practices; and (6) influencing policy.12,13 To date, much attention has been given to awareness raising, which is applicable for many community-stakeholders. However, it should not be used in isolation, as raising awareness without further action has not proven effective.14
Free the Slaves is a particularly successful task force model for trafficking prevention that seeks to strengthen communities and help them overcome key vulnerabilities. This model uses a four-pronged, data-driven approach that brings stakeholders together to conduct contextual research, increase organizational capacity, foster community resistance and resilience, and ultimately reduce slavery/trafficking.15
Successful primary prevention strategies should employ multiple, concurrent approaches in a variety of levels and settings, as seen in the examples provided below. Although some of these examples are conceptually focused and do not meet the definition of evidence-based programs, several have been shown to be promising practices warranting further study. Overall, the limited evaluation of existing strategies and programs points to the critical need for funding to rigorously evaluate these efforts to ensure the most effective prevention outcomes.
1) Violence and crime prevention. Strategies to reduce violence and crime include:
2) Housing and urban development. Addressing neighborhood-level risk factors, such as homelessness, may mitigate vulnerabilities for human trafficking. These strategies include:
3) Businesses. Trafficking victims may be coerced into both labor or sex trades with exploitive labor practices, which can be reduced by:
4) Healthcare. As trafficking victims interact with the healthcare system at all stages of their victimization, the healthcare workforce is an ideal space to identify and intervene with those at risk.32,33 For example, up to 88% of trafficking victims report seeking health care at some point during their exploitation, including emergency care, primary care, psychiatry, dentistry, obstetrics and gynecology, and plastic surgery.34 Strategies that can be implemented in the healthcare field include:
5) Schools and child welfare. Trafficking vulnerabilities involving educational challenges and substance use can be targeted within the school setting. Further, attending to the economic and social needs of children targets fundamental vulnerabilities such as childhood abuse, family disruption, and child welfare involvement.39 Examples of such strategies include:
Prepared through the Research-to-Policy Collaboration with the support of the Society for Community Research and Action and the following organizations. Authors: Elizabeth Long, Joan Reid, Jill McLeigh, Hanni Stoklosa, Erika Felix, & Taylor Scott. For more information: Contact Taylor.Scott@research2policy.org.
This statement is an official statement of The Society for Community Research and Action, Division 27 of the American Psychological Association, and does not represent the position of American Psychological Association or any of its other Divisions or subunits.
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