Research-to-Action

GSHI publishes editorial in The Lancet Psychiatry: harms of conflating sex work and trafficking, need for evidence-based approaches

GSHI Research Scientist Dr. Shira Goldenberg recently published an editorial in the October issue of the Lancet Psychiatry journal. In her commentary, Dr. Goldenberg highlights the problems that result from conflating sex work (i.e., the sale/exchange of consensual adult sexual services) with trafficking. Such conflation is often ideologically or politically motivated, as exemplified by the 'antiprostitution pledge', requiring all recipients of funding from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to explicitly oppose sex work. In some cases, service providers and law enforcement assume sex workers to be 'trafficked', an assumption negatively impacting both sex workers and trafficked persons that often results from a lack of training in evidence-based methods of identifying and responding to trafficking, as well as media messages that conflate sex work and trafficking.

Dr. Goldenberg's editorial also discusses the dire need for mental health services for trafficked people that are based on scientific evidence and human rights. The continued training of front-line workers (e.g., healthcare workers, law enforcement, and social workers) in evidence-based strategies for identifying and supporting trafficked persons is discussed, as is the need for such strategies to be developed with leadership from sex workers and traffickers persons themselves.

Dr. Goldenberg's editorial also notes that while trafficked persons often come from very diverse contexts, inequalities in mental health related to migration - for example, trauma related to smuggling or detention, or stress related to adjustment to a new setting, remain inadequately addressed. Addressing migration-related health influences within health and social services provision (and especially, mental health services) remains critical for meeting the diverse needs of women, men, and children who experience trafficking. 

Read the full commentary here

Related GSHI publications:

Goldenberg SM. Trafficking, migration and health: complexities and future directions. The Lancet Global Health. 2015;3(3):e118-119.