On Thursday, November 2 Capitol Hill was the scene for a panel presentation on how to prevent human trafficking.  The forum sponsored by the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives, entitled Strategies on Preventing Human Trafficking: Research on How to Stop Trafficking Before It Starts, focused attention on the need for primary prevention.

Approximately 40 million people worldwide (including the United States) are estimated to be victims of human trafficking.  Human trafficking can take many forms such as commercial sexual exploitation, being forced into bonded labor, and domestic servitude.

Panel presentations included comments by Joan Reid, University of South Florida, Jill McLeigh, The Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice, Hanni Stoklosa, HEAL Trafficking, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and survivor, Audrey Morrissey (author: My life, My Choice).

The key emphasis of the discussion was that this was about on primary prevention. In opening remarks Jennifer Woolard, Georgetown University, emphasized the importance of prevention. She pointed out that 80% of boys and 90% of girls who are victims of trafficking will be victimized again.  Once a person has been victimized we have moved beyond prevention.  In a theme that some child abuse prevention proponents will fully appreciate, she indicated how primary prevention is not addressing the needs of victims after the fact but to intervene before that point is reached.

Dr. Reid discussed research findings and how to strategize on who to target in community-based prevention.  Each element can make it more likely that a person will be victimized.  Key factors include:

  • Individual vulnerabilities:

o   inexperience populations that include youth who have language and cultural differences,

o   disabilities that include individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities,

o   substance use: people who have substance abuse problems with alcohol and drugs, and

o   elevated exposure such as those who run away, and those who are involved with social networks.

  • Family vulnerabilities:

o   family adversity which includes caregiver adversity when the caregiver has mental health and substance use problems and employment problems,

o   exposure to criminal environment which includes families and peers involved in the crime of trafficking,

o   financial pressure when families have a lack of support or limited career preparedness and opportunities

o   family’s violence especially when linked to run away and homeless status

  • Relationship vulnerabilities:

o   maltreatment including children who are victims of sexual or physical abuse and rejection based on sexual preference

o   legal and dependency status that includes foster care, LBGTQ groups and people with expired visas

These factors can crisscross to create prime targets for trafficking and these target groups can overlap when environmental factors such as high neighborhood crime, transient population areas, communities that are having economic difficulty including high poverty areas and areas of limited opportunities for employment make individuals even more vulnerable.

Aubrey Morrissey told of her life growing up as a child within a two-parent black middle-class family where both parents worked. Her problems started when she became pregnant as a teenager.  Going to school in Massachusetts in a racial polarized setting against the anti-school busing era she felt more vulnerable.  Her path to sex trafficking was through a high school classmate who was involved in trafficking and she became in trapped

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Panelists discussed various strategies that focused on strong communities and strategies to target those with some or many of these vulnerability factors.  One example was a model that is used in California and parts of Utah that target fifth, seventh, ninth, and 11th grade students that identify some of these vulnerabilities and the ways to pay attention to children who may be susceptible for future victimization.