UK Trafficking Victims Suffer Severe Mental Health Problems, New Study Finds

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Laura Gautrey is part of the Survivor Support Team at Hope for Justice’s Head Office in Manchester UK. A qualified Adult Social Worker with a background in Local Authority care, Laura has undertaken long-term voluntary placements around the world most recently with trafficking survivors in Brazil. She shares her thoughts on the London Universities’ study.

Researchers from London Universities reported that victims develop long-term mental health problems and require specialist support services to facilitate recovery as a result of the abuse they’ve suffered.The team, including academics from King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, interviewed 150 victims rescued from trafficking in Britain as part of a ground-breaking study.

Almost 80% of the women and 40% of the men interviewed reported high levels of depression, anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Writing in the American Journal of Public Health last week, the team provide an invaluable insight with what is believed to be the very first study on the impact of human trafficking on mental health in a developed nation.

Siân Oram, lead author of the study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said in a statement;

“Even after escaping trafficking, the large majority of people in our sample reported that they were still afraid of their traffickers.”

“It is crucial … that the immediate safety of survivors is taken into consideration when planning the type of support required.”

The study’s findings reflect the experience of our specialist in-house Survivor Support Team said who work with clients day in and day out.

We see a profound and long-term impact of mental health struggles on many survivors’ everyday lives. We have to stay standing with them as long as it takes.

The root of these struggles is so often caused by, or exacerbated by, their trafficking experience and the impact can be months or even years.

The participants in the University study originated from 30 countries including Nigeria, Albania and Poland and whilst the women interviewed were mainly trafficked for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude the majority of men were trafficked for labour exploitation in farming, construction and car washing.

This was the same kind of pattern we saw in 2015 during which our own Regional Investigative Hub teams rescued 150 individuals from a range of trafficking situations.

One of the findings that really stands out to us is that 66 percent of trafficked women reported being sexually exploited, including more than half the women trafficked for domestic servitude. So even where female victims aren’t trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation they’re still encountering sexual violence as a part of their abuse.

Two thirds of trafficked women are sexually exploited – including many kept as domestic servants.

This raises the question afresh, what more can we do and should we be doing to tackle trafficking and the effects of trafficking on individuals and society?

“(Human trafficking) damages the physical and psychological health of men and women exploited in many different labour sectors,” said Cathy Zimmerman, co-investigator for the study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“The NHS (National Health Service) has a key role to play in helping trafficked people to recover from their ordeal, and in the UK response to human trafficking.”

Certainly, survivors need access to specialist services for as long as it takes to recover from their trauma and that’s why our Survivor Support Team work so hard to connect survivors to existing services. There aren’t enough of these services and survivors can find their situations decline whilst waiting to access them. Ultimately, it’s a question of finance and as a society we need to ask how highly we value the protection of the most vulnerable among us.

We also know that a support network and practical assistance play a huge role in psychological well-being.

Having a stable roof over their heads, food in their cupboards and a community around them can be the difference between recovery and deterioration.

These basic provisions can be hard for many trafficking victims to access with serious consequences for their success in addressing trauma.

Our ongoing Keep Your Promise campaign calls for the Government to live up to existing commitments to prioritise victim care in order to see the recovery of trafficked individuals and the prosecution of their traffickers. Without healthy survivors to act as witnesses there can be no end to criminal cycles that see people exploited for profit.

Join the call to keep survivors safe and cared for on our campaign page.