Ask the Doctor: Human Trafficking

traff2Question:  What is human trafficking, who is at risk and why?

Most people think human trafficking, or slavery, is a thing of the past.  However, human trafficking is the second biggest world-wide crime, as well as the second-leading crime in Michigan.  It affects girls and boys, women and men.  Sex and labor slaves come from all walks of life:  the city to the suburbs; the rich and the poor.  They may be chained in a basement room, or they may live next door, coming and going “freely”.

Human trafficking is the exploitation of people, typically for the purpose of sexual or labor slavery.  People may be kidnapped and transported geographically or may be held close to their original home.  They may be beaten or threatened, forcing them into sexual acts, manual labor or other acts that benefit of the person controlling the victim.  Examples include a child being forced into prostitution, a person being forced to do domestic work for a relative, or an adult forced to work in a restaurant kitchen.

There are many possible risk factors including:  social isolation; homelessness; history of abuse; emotional distress; low self-esteem; substance abuse and mental illness.  Essentially, persons who are emotionally vulnerable, and without strong supports, are at risk for falling victim to human trafficking.  The low self-esteem can lead to a person to believe they deserve the abuse.  Without strong supports, there is no one to “save” them from the abusers.

Conditions that increase the incidence of trafficking are civil unrest, the lack of social and economic opportunity, armed conflict and natural disasters. These conditions result in migrations and displacements of people, making people vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Shame and stigma contribute to keeping a person in an abusive situation.  Often the perpetrators will emotionally blackmail victims, convincing them that they are undesirable because of the acts they’ve been forced to engage in.  They are told their families don’t care, or the family is threatened, or they might even be sold into the slavery by family.

Michigan recently enacted bills which recognize the problem of human trafficking, including Emmons’ bill, which eliminated the statute of limitations for human trafficking, or commercial sexual exploitation of children offenses.

Organizations such as Traffick Free, Arbor Circle, and Eve’s Angels are working to educate the people of Michigan about the problem, provider street outreach, and deliver services for persons and families in crisis.  If you have any suspicions that someone you know, live near, or pass by on the street may be a victim of abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out.

The victims of human trafficking often suffer emotionally after the abuse.  In the next article we will discuss Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how to overcome it.

If you need more information about human trafficking, you are a victim of human trafficking, or you know a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888

Dr. Carmen McIntyre is the Chief Medical Officer at Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. If you have a question for Dr. McIntyre, please submit it to




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