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A “Healthy” Choice for Survivors

written by Lauren, Xavier University Summer Service Intern

While the Senate healthcare bill has failed, we recognize that as the conversation around the healthcare continues and evolves, it is likely that the conditions referenced in the article below will still be under debate and up for discussion. 

Healthcare is an absolute necessity for survivors of human trafficking. One of the most frequently spoken about intersections between healthcare and human trafficking is the unique opportunity available for healthcare professionals to help identify people experiencing human trafficking. Oftentimes, the only moment a victim of human trafficking is alone is when he/she is in an appointment with a healthcare professional. This independence gives the medical professionals a chance to ask investigative questions that others may not be able to ask otherwise. Although these interactions are incredibly valuable, and sometimes lifesaving, another aspect of the human trafficking and healthcare intersection that is more absent from the conversation is the reality of chronic health conditions that remain long after someone escapes human trafficking. Labor trafficking and sex trafficking are both incredibly necessary to understand, however, this article will primarily focus on the intersection between sex trafficking and healthcare.

Some of the most commonly mentioned bills in the House and Senate this year are related to the future of healthcare in America. The GOP released the American Health Care Act of 2017 – a bill which includes extensive lists of pre-existing conditions, which will either make some individuals ineligible for healthcare or they will cause people to have a significantly higher bill. Sex trafficking survivors are more prone to certain medical ailments. These medical conditions include (but are not limited to): HIV/AIDs, alcohol or drug abuse/dependency, mental disorders (including anxiety, depression, and PTSD), pregnancy, and menstrual irregularity. Every single one of those is considered a pre-existing condition on the American Health Care Act of 2017. Due to the significant overlap between the common health conditions facing survivors of human trafficking and the pre-existing conditions in the healthcare bill, we find ourselves being called to speak up for the survivors and advocate for change in the legislation.

The proposed healthcare bills would provide insufficient support to survivors of human trafficking – people who may have otherwise be eligible for medical coverage. Of the 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, 32 percent are victims of sex trafficking. Although it is impossible to estimate the number of victims in the United States, it is estimated to reach the hundreds of thousands. Due to the massive amounts of force, fraud and coercion that are involved in human trafficking, it is likely that many immigrants without documentation enter sex slavery after being promised a future that may not otherwise be attainable. It is difficult enough to obtain affordable healthcare as a documented individual in the United States, so the insurmountable obstacles facing immigrants without documentation is hard to fathom. In a time when our legislation makes it nearly impossible for people without documentation to complete fundamental tasks without great adversity, how can we expect the same population to receive necessary medical care?

There are countless ways sex traffickers coerce their victims into sex trafficking – one of which is the promise of a job which will bring abundant wealth. Traffickers quickly make it clear that the victims are going to receive little to none of what money they make. This leaves the survivors with immense trauma but limited resources. It is unrealistic to expect someone who experienced human trafficking to be able to afford the expensive medical bill they received for a condition that occurred solely because of trafficking – especially if their experience left them ineligible for health insurance through the government.

Substance abuse, forced abortions, and suicide attempts are disproportionately present among survivors of human trafficking in comparison to the world population. A study done by the Annals of Internal Medicine found that “each year 90% of sex-trafficked children (aged <18 years) develop substance abuse disorders, 12% have forced abortions, and 16% attempt suicide” (Macias-Konstantopoulos, 2016). Even if there was just one person experiencing any of these conditions we should demand support services. However, when masses of youth who are survivors of human trafficking face countless mental and physical battles, demand for change is needed now more than ever.

Survivors of human trafficking deserve more than the services we are currently providing, and they deserve equal access to government insurance. Human trafficking is a bipartisan issue, so why is it that the healthcare legislature is not reflecting the respect for all humans – especially survivors of human trafficking? In order to create a society that reflects our support for survivors of human trafficking, we must first provide care for the physical needs of the person. The time is now to take action and demand freedom for everyone. To demonstrate your support for the human dignity of all people, call your representative and express your aversion for the healthcare bill.

“I cannot fail these girls by diverting my eyes from the invisible residue of slavery that clings to them like a shadow.”

-Marquita Burke-DeJesus


Macias-Konstantopoulos, W. (2016). Human Trafficking: The Role of Medicine in Interrupting

the Cycle of Abuse and Violence. Annals Of Internal Medicine, 165(8), 582-588.