Identifying Human Trafficking Victims on a Psychiatry Inpatient Service

Samuel Scott & Karen Li | September 22 | 10:15-11:15 AM | Room 2592

Six cases were identified from the general population of an inpatient psychiatric hospital unit, including one male and five females. Two had been labor trafficked and four were suspected or confirmed to have been sex trafficked. The cases demonstrated a tremendous diversity of demographic and psychiatric risk factors. Risk factors included substance use, homelessness, psychosis, and immigration status. These cases indicate the importance of routinely screening for trafficking victims in medical settings, specifically inpatient multidisciplinary medical settings, such as inpatient psychiatry services. Identification of cases is a requisite step in providing informed and evidence-based treatments and enabling the secondary prevention of re-exploitation. Inpatient mental health teams are encouraged to be attentive to the complex relationship between psychiatric symptoms and human trafficking. Additional research is warranted given the limited current empirical research on this topic area. While there currently are many readily available screening questions and tools, there are no validated screening tools for trafficking victims in the medical setting. This acts as another major obstacle to overcome in moving from clinical suspicion to a more effective, generalized screening process in medical services. Human trafficking is a serious and prevalent human rights violation that closely intersects with mental health. Limited empirical attention has been paid to the presentations and identification of trafficking victims in psychiatric settings.

Presentation Objectives:

  • Describe the sometimes-insidious nature of many presentations of trafficking victims to mental healthcare providers
  • Present psychiatric illness as an independent risk factor for becoming a victim of trafficking

About the Presenters