The health needs and healthcare experiences of young people trafficked into the UK

Stanley, Nicky orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7644-1625, Oram, Siân, Jakobowitz, Sharon, Westwood, Joanne Louise orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7560-1391, Borschmann, Rohan, Zimmerman, Cathy and Howard, Louise M. (2016) The health needs and healthcare experiences of young people trafficked into the UK. Child Abuse & Neglect, 59 . pp. 100-110. ISSN 0145-2134

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Young people who have been trafficked may have experienced significant trauma and violence but little is known about their health and healthcare needs. This UK study aimed to address that gap. It included a health survey and qualitative interviews with 29 young people aged 16–21 trafficked into the UK from other countries who were recruited through voluntary organisations and children’s social services. These data were supplemented by interviews with relevant professionals. Over half the young people had been trafficked for sex work but sexual violence had also been experienced by those trafficked for domestic servitude and labour exploitation. Physical violence, threats, restrictions of liberty and deprivation were also widespread, as were experiences of physical and sexual violence prior to being trafficked. Five young women had become pregnant whilst trafficked; three were parents when interviewed. Two-thirds screened positive for high levels of psychological distress, including PTSD. Twelve reported suicidal thinking. Whilst some were keen for opportunities to talk to health professionals confidentially and wanted practitioners to treat their accounts as credible, others wanted to forget abusive experiences. Complex gatekeeping systems, language barriers and practitioners who failed to take them seriously limited access to healthcare. Support and advocacy were helpful in assisting these young people to navigate healthcare systems. Health professionals need to recognise and respond appropriately to trafficked young people’s often complex mental health needs and refer them to relevant services, as well as facilitating care at later times when they might need support or be more ready to receive help.

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