By Rochelle Rollins, PhD, MPH, Human Trafficking Health Policy Advisor
Minority health service providers and researchers improve the lives of the poorly served, underserved, never served and those traumatized by the atrocities of human trafficking. Our most vulnerable populations benefit from their vision and intentional response to their needs. Greater collaboration at the national, state, tribal and local levels will enhance efforts to end human trafficking.
Every April across the United States, we commemorate Minority Health Month — a time marked by community awareness activities and discussions about persistent health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. The roots of the commemorated month date back to 1915 and leadership from Dr. Booker T. Washington. Over the past 100 years there have been milestones such as the release of the Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1985. This landmark eight-volume report, became known as the "Heckler Report" after then HHS Secretary Margaret Heckler. The Task Force defined minorities as Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders, and paid particular attention to the higher death rates of Blacks and other minorities in comparison to Whites. The depth and breadth of these reports described in detail and as never before, the unequal health and health care experience of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States.
Every January we commemorate National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and celebrate the anniversary of the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. A Presidential Proclamation is issued to encourage action in the United States. Last year a Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services to Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States was released. This five-year plan calls for coordination, collaboration, and capacity of victim services across government and with non-public partners. One of the plan’s core values is the meaningful engagement of survivors in program development, implementation and evaluation.
Constructing and Maintaining the Bridge
Linking minority health and human trafficking starts with an honest conversation about the social determinants of health that impact vulnerable populations and victim demographics.
Social determinants of health are the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live and work. Increasingly we are viewing human trafficking as a public health problem, not just a law enforcement one, which opens the door for an exchange of ideas and best practices from the minority health field. The social determinants of health are the connective tissue that bind the topics.
An understated fact is that the vast majority of victims in the United States are people of color. According to a 2013 Department of Justice report of confirmed sex trafficking victims whose race was known, 40 percent were Black, 26 percent were White, 23 percent were Hispanic, 4 percent were Asian, and 6 percent were other. Likewise of confirmed labor trafficking victims, 56 percent were Hispanic, 18 percent were other, 15 percent were Asian, 10 percent were Black, and 2 percent were White. Acknowledging these demographics and levels of vulnerability does not lessen our understanding that victims come from all walks of life, it sharpens our collective ability to be impactful.
As more minority serving organizations and universities learn about human trafficking they are becoming passionate, engaged and ready partners. For example, Historically Black Colleges Universities such as Spelman College and Howard University have sponsored conferences which provided a platform for the involvement of survivors and the broader community. The Administration for Native Americans is planning ways to engage tribal youth and Tribal Colleges and Universities.
I once heard someone say, “the future is a whole lot of what we do right now strung together.” Right now here are some actions we can do.
Historically, social change efforts learn strategies and best practices from each other. That is how progress happens. The leveraging of expertise between minority health and human trafficking is an idea whose time has come. The largest health disparities that exist are between those who are free and those who are slaves. Working together we can turn bondage into freedom and suffering into restoration.