How-To for Therapists on Spotting and Assisting Trafficking Victims

A mental health practitioner helping a teen girl

Trafficking victims are often silent about their experiences of exploitation. Therapists and other healthcare professionals may not suspect that a client is being exploited if they aren’t familiar with the most common “red flags” that may signal a trafficking situation.

To bridge this awareness gap, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) in September 2016 presented the webinar “Human Trafficking Awareness for Mental Health Professionals,” which is now archived on the NHTRC website. The 32-minute presentation is divided into four sections and is appropriate for early-career and established mental health practitioners.

The webinar also includes several teaching tools to help practitioners evaluate how well they have absorbed the presentation’s content. For instance, two case studies are discussed and participants can measure their knowledge by completing “Test Your Knowledge” questions.

Here are some highlights and recommendations from the webinar:

Defining and understanding human trafficking. In the first section, the presenter uses the “A-M-P (Action, Means, Purpose) Model,” to help mental health professionals understand the elements of trafficking. Under the “Action” heading, the presenter lists several components of trafficking such as recruiting, harboring, or transporting people, and examples are given of each.

Mental health impacts. Mental health professionals need to develop the skills to identify the effects of trauma to ensure that trafficking victims who don’t disclose their victimization still receive trauma-informed treatment, the presenter emphasizes. This part of the webinar covers the impacts of trauma on five mental health domains: memory, regulation, behavior, relationships, and self-identity.

Red flags. Professionals should know how to recognize whether their client is a potential victim of labor or sex trafficking. This section reviews the mental health impacts of each type of trafficking, such as anxiety and panic attacks for labor-trafficked individuals and self-harming behaviors for sex-trafficked individuals.

The webinar closes by discussing the need to use a victim-centered approach in working with trafficking victims, the need for organizations to develop response protocols, and the array of resources available to support identification and response efforts.

If an organization needs immediate assistance in identifying or responding to a possible trafficking victim, the NHTRC’s hotline operators are available to assist callers 24/7 at (888) 373-7888. The hotline is confidential and toll-free. Staff can also visit the NHTRC online.

More on Trafficking Prevention and Intervention

New Trainings in Georgia Address Child Sex Trafficking

Resources to Help Prevent and Raise Awareness about Youth Trafficking

What Are Youth Perspectives on Commercial Sexual Exploitation?

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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