Anti-Trafficking Work is Public Health Work

Aug 23, 2019 | by Shaina

When I first came to work at the STOP-IT as an intern, I was in the midst of completing a master’s degree in public health. Many people are familiar with the fields of social work, nursing, and medicine but public health is a broad professional area that is generally less understood.  A public health response focuses on health and wellness of people and their communities, with an emphasis on preventing problems from happening or recurring.

Human trafficking is a public health issue! Below is a map of the Public Health System. All of these stakeholders, service providers, and other entities have a role to play in our communities when it comes to addressing human trafficking. Survivors engage in/with these organizations often! The Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force aims to bring all of these entities together to tackle human trafficking collaboratively.


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Anti-trafficking work involves all ten of the essential services under the core functions of public health: Assessment, Policy Development, and Assurance. Below is a wheel that illustrates the core functions of public health and the essential public health activities involved. I will briefly walk through each activity and explain how we see them conducted in anti-trafficking work!


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Research - Research is at the very center! Research on human trafficking is always ongoing as we seek to develop evidence-based practices for identification and care for survivors. One common area of human trafficking research is the creation and evaluation of screening tools to identify victims.

Monitor Health - This involves identifying health problems. Human trafficking has already been identified as an issue that impacts people in communities in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

Diagnose & Investigate - The work of law enforcement involves conducting human trafficking investigations and receiving tips and information about incidents of exploitation from survivors, community members, and service providers so that traffickers can be convicted of their crimes.

Inform, Educate, Empower - Through outreach, training, and technical assistance, STOP-IT staff consistently engage in informing and educating community members and social service providers about human trafficking. Members of the task force are also actively involved in training folks at police departments, community centers, hospitals, schools, and other organizations to equip folks to identify and respond approropriately to human trafficking.

Mobilize Community Partnerships - This is what human trafficking task forces are all about! Our Coordinated Service Referral Network (a subset of the Victim Services Subcommittee of the Task Force), which is made up of trusted partners who are able to provide trauma-informed care to survivors of human trafficking, was created so that safe referrals for survivors can be made from one service provider to another.

Develop Policies - This activity would involve any effort to create plans and protocols that ensure identification, appropriate response, and trauma-informed care for survivors is taking place. One example of this is the model protocol providing guidance for healthcare providers in hospitals developed by the healthcare subcommittee of the task force.

Enforce Laws - This activity is largely carried out by law enforcement but members of the task force are also engaged in promoting laws that support and protect survivors of trafficking. A healthcare subcommittee project conducted last fall involved contacting local hospitals and asking whether the Human Trafficking notice created by the IL Department of Human Services was posted somewhere in public view. Hospitals were informed that posting of the notice is required by law and failure to do so could result in a fine.

Link to/Provide Care - STOP-IT and other local partners work to provide case management and links to other needed services and resources for survivors on a daily basis. As we develop and strengthen relationships within the anti-trafficking community, we are better able to make connections and referrals that enable survivors to access the care and support they need.

Assure Competent Workforce - Training, training, training! Whether it’s providing technical assistance to service providers on the hotline, inviting folks to our annual task force conference, or providing and participating in multidisciplinary trainings year round, we are always engaged in increasing competence to aid survivors of trafficking through quality training for ourselves and others in the anti-trafficking field.

Evaluate - Last but not least, evaluation. It is always important to stop and ask ourselves what is going well and what isn’t, what’s working and what isn’t. Current research and feedback from survivors should always inform our goals, processes, program components and training content.


After learning about these important activities that make up public health work, we can see how a public health approach to human trafficking is highly effective!



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