January 2012: National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

On December 30, 2011, President Obama proclaimed January 2012 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery.  Behind drug trafficking, human trafficking is tied with weapons trafficking as the second largest criminal enterprise in the world and the fastest growing (USDHHS, 2011).  As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of "labor or services," such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will (Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act, 2000). However, while trafficking seems to imply people moving across continents, most exploitation takes place close to home. 

The U.S. State Department (2010) estimates 12.3 million adults and children are currently in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution globally, adding that 56% of these victims are women and girls. Women and children are overwhelmingly trafficked in labor arenas because of their relative lack of power, social marginalization, and their overall status as compared to men (USDHHS, 2011). The average age of entry into prostitution for girls is 12-14 years old (Estes & Weiner, 2001).

According the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (2010b), while anyone can become a victim of trafficking, certain populations are especially vulnerable including undocumented immigrants; runaway and homeless youth; victims of trauma and abuse; refugees and individuals fleeing conflict; and oppressed, marginalized, and/or impoverished groups and individuals. Youth are often targeted through social networking, in malls, clubs, on the street, or through friends (NHTRC, 2010a).

Trafficking denies women and children basic freedom.  In most cases, traffickers utilize physical and psychological means of control, such as physical violence, threats, fraud, or abuse of the legal process to control individuals and force them into labor, or commercial sexual exploitation (USDHHS, 2011).  Victims are often kept isolated to prevent them from getting help. Their activities are restricted and they are typically watched, escorted or guarded by associates of traffickers (USDHHS, 2011).

Physical health consequences to those trafficked can include drug and alcohol addiction, traumatic brain injuries and other physical injuries, gastrointestinal problems, infectious diseases, dental problems, unhealthy weight loss due to food deprivation and poor nutrition, and reproductive health problems (Raymond, D’Cunha, Dzuhayatin, Hynes, Rodriguez, & Santos, 2002). Psychological trauma can include disassociated ego states, shame, grief, fear, distrust, self-blame and self-hatred, suicide, suicidal thoughts, and PTSD (Antonopoulou, 2006).

The needs of survivors of trafficking are among the most complex of crime victims, often requiring an interdisciplinary approach to address severe trauma and medical needs (NHTRC, 2010b).

Concerned by the gravity of the trafficking epidemic and its impact on women and girls the American Psychological Association (APA) Committee on Women in Psychology (CWP) affirmed their commitment to address this serious human rights issue and requested that an APA task force focus on the mental health implications of this national scourge.  In 2011 the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) appointed a 10-person APA Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls

The Task Force will provide evidence-based documentation of the mental health needs of victims of human trafficking, evaluate programs and services that are available, and explore unanswered questions regarding the best treatment options continue to be limitations to effectively serving this vulnerable population.  APA will use the task force report to inform and educate law enforcement officials, health care providers, and policymakers and utilize psychological knowledge to educate and increase community awareness and to improve the overall health and wellness of women and girls who are victims of trafficking.

The Task Force report is expected in early 2013.

For additional information, please visit the APA Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls website.


Antonopoulou, C., & Skoufalos, N. (2006). Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of trafficking. Annals of General Psychiatry, 5, 120.


Estes, R. & Weiner, N. (2001). The commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Work, Center for the Study of Youth Policy. Cited by the U.S. Department of Justice, Child Exploitation and Obscenities Section (CEOS) retrieved January 26, 2012.


Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. (2012). Faith based investors team up with Indy law enforcement to tackle human trafficking at Super Bowl [Press Release]. Retrieved January 30, 2012.


National Human Trafficking Resource Center. (2010a). Trafficking overview: the traffickers. Washington, DC:  Polaris Project. Retrieved January 26, 2012.


National Human Trafficking Resource Center (2010b). Trafficking overview: the victims. Washington, DC:  Polaris Project.  Retrieved January 26, 2012.


Raymond, J. G., D’Cunha, J., Dzuhayatin, S. R., Hynes, H. P., Rodriguez, Z. R., & Santos, A. (2002). A comparative study of women trafficked in the migration process. Patterns, profiles, and health consequences of sexual exploitation in five countries (Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Venezuela, and the United States.) (PDF, 923.31KB). Amherst, MA: Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Retrieved November 14, 2010.


Sullivan, A. (2011, February 6). Cracking down on the Super Bowl sex trade. Time.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (2011). The Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking: About Human Trafficking. Retrieved January 26, 2012.


Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. (2000).Pub. L. No. 106-386, Div. A, 114 Stat. 1464, enacted October 28, 2000. [Division A of this law is referred to as The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000]. Retrieved January 30, 2012.


U.S. Department of State. (2010). Trafficking in persons: Ten years of partnering to combat modern slavery [Fact Sheet] Retrieved February 1, 2012.