By Dr. Liz Such
I believe it is time for international responses to human trafficking to be pro-active and oriented by public health. We can learn from practitioners and researchers in different regions to create more effective responses. For instance, in the ECHOES blog published in July 2021, Hari and Salami helpfully explore how health services and providers can respond to the needs of people who have been internationally trafficked and exploited in North America. In the UK, the evidence base has been developed through seminal works such as the PROTECT study; practice has been improved through health professional networks such as VITA; and professional bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing have produced guidance to support victim detection, referral and treatment. These are important steps in the battle to address the exploitation of migrants and other communities living in vulnerable circumstances. But as we respond to the problem as we encounter it, practitioners have realized the importance of shifting their attention further upstream, towards the wider contribution the health sector can potentially offer to the prevention of harms. In other words, our focus has moved to stopping the worst from happening.
Thinking about prevention in the UK is being greatly influenced by the long-established principles of public health. These include, ‘zooming out’ to see the problem at a population level, identifying opportunities to intervene, focusing on improving health, well-being and more equitable outcomes, using data and evidence to explore ‘what works’ and working in an interdisciplinary and multi-agency fashion. Indeed, the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, alongside other statutory bodies, has endorsed the development of a public health approach to human trafficking. This has been developed in a UK context by our team at the University of Sheffield and alongside the Commissioner and Public Health England. We have co-produced a public health framework and a guide for policy, practice and local anti-slavery partnerships. This progress has the potential to re-frame discussions about human trafficking prevention away from awareness raising and criminal prosecutions and towards intervening across cycles of exploitation risk and harm along the migration journey. These materials are available to explore at this microsite. As a co-produced resource, it is regularly updated and developed as we receive feedback. We welcome all contributions to how a public health approach can be further developed and mobilized. Please contact the author with your feedback and questions. Also, please contact Dr. Frances Recknor, in Toronto, if you have ideas or questions related specifically to public health and human trafficking in Canada.
Together we can prevent human trafficking and act to dismantle its root causes.
Liz Such, PhD
Research Fellow, University of Sheffield
and Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellow, National Institute of Health Research, UK
Contact in Toronto: Dr. Frances Recknor, firstname.lastname@example.org