Human Trafficking: Empowering a Comprehensive Social Work Response
METHOD: Data were from a study of 60 women incarcerated in a maximum security correctional facility in the Southeast. The researchers randomly selected participants who matched their eligibility requirements: inmates over the age of 18 who had moved beyond the initial adjustment to prison conditions. After providing information and obtaining informed consent, the researchers obtained a sample of 60 participants comprising women from a range of demographic backgrounds, criminal backgrounds, and lengths of sentences. Of the 60 participants, 52% were African American and 42% were white. They ranged in age from 18 to 70, with a median age of 31 years. Fifty-seven percent did not graduate high school, and 78% were listed in prison records as having children. Interviews were based on open-ended prompts to explore life histories and lasted about two hours. For the human trafficking analysis, two analysts used NVivo to co-code interviews to identify the following types of human trafficking-related experiences and indicators: coercion, force, fraud, debt bondage, profit (taken from participant) for labor or sex. Two other researchers independently checked 50% of the transcripts to validate coding quality and credibility. Incongruence and selective coding were discussed and resolved through team discussion.
RESULTS: We found a high rate of experiences meeting all human trafficking criteria, and many others meeting at least one criterion. Yet, the life experiences of women who suffered poly-victimization blurred the lines of ideal-type human trafficking, and social-ecological issues surrounding women’s human trafficking victimizations paralleled conditions surrounding women’s victimizations outside of human trafficking.
IMPLICATIONS: Through the experiences and examples in our study, we illustrate the continuum of human trafficking-related victimizations and their relation to women’s social-ecologies. We demonstrate ways to apply these results in trainings and in organizing a broader public health response to human trafficking.