On Tuesday, the Center for Law, Health and Society at Georgia State Law hosted a discussion about preventing human trafficking. A packed room of students, faculty and community members had the opportunity to engage with the authors of “Preventing Child Trafficking: A Public Health Approach” (Johns Hopkins University Press).
Distinguished University Professor Jonathan Todres and Dr. Angela Diaz, director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, spoke together for the first time about their new book, which takes a look into how sex and labor trafficking can be prevented using public health methods.
While Todres says that public awareness about human trafficking has increased significantly in the past 20 years, he challenged the audience to consider how much progress has been made.
“Despite all those efforts, most people in the field agree there’s no evidence to suggest that prevalence has declined,” said Todres. “We haven’t necessarily made a dent in the number of people being trafficked at any point in time.”
Todres says most of the work in the past two decades instead has focused on apprehending perpetrators and assisting survivors, but that’s after harm has already occurred. He says that using a public health approach can help focus efforts on prevention.
“In public health, people don’t wait for an outbreak of a contagious disease and then say, ‘let’s see if we can find who is responsible and hold them accountable.’ In public health, the focus is immunizing the community so the disease outbreak doesn’t occur.”
Dr. Angela Diaz knows first-hand how child trafficking is a public health issue. In her medical practice, she works with trafficking survivors ages 10 to 24 covering a range of clinical services.
“Wherever they are, we work with them,” said Diaz. “They come to us because they feel welcome, respected, connected, safe, not judged, and accounted for. That’s what they need and that begins the healing process.”
Diaz stated that, in order to be successful and address the adolescent’s needs, the system must be comprehensive and integrated to ensure young individuals can access all needed services seamlessly. At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, she champions an innovative interdisciplinary approach to addressing human trafficking that includes integrated physical health, sexual and reproductive health, dental, optical, behavioral and mental health, and legal services, as well as health education.
The engaged audience opened up the dialogue by asking questions on topics such as current initiatives for survivors, medical rights for children, and if there is pending legislation to mitigate trafficking.
In their book, Todres and Diaz outlined a public health “toolkit”—a set of questions that any individual or organization can use to develop or strengthen responses to child trafficking.
“Our hope is that these questions can at least start conversations on this issue and help to bring in the benefits and the value of a public health approach, and that might help us build a more comprehensive, integrated response and move us closer to preventing the harm to occur,” said Todres.
Written by Mara Thompson