Core Competencies for Anti-Trafficking Response in Healthcare Systems Released

February 24, 2021

Today the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families released a new “Core Competencies for Human Trafficking Response in Health Care and Behavioral Health Systems Visit disclaimer page  Visit disclaimer page ” resource. These core competencies highlight skill sets for health care professionals to identify, respond to and serve individuals who have experienced or are at risk of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

Research has shown individuals experiencing trafficking are likely to seek health care during or around the period of their exploitation. Health care is a critical access point for help, yet health care institutions and providers may not know how to respond.

This resource describes six core competencies and one universal competency to improve prevention, identification, and response to human trafficking by health care professionals, organizations, researchers, and educators:

  • Core Competency 1: Understand the nature and epidemiology of trafficking
  • Core Competency 2: Evaluate and identify the risk of trafficking
  • Core Competency 3: Evaluate the needs of individuals who have experienced trafficking or individuals who are at risk of trafficking
  • Core Competency 4: Provide patient-centered care
  • Core Competency 5: Use legal and ethical standards
  • Core Competency 6: Integrate trafficking prevention strategies into clinical practice and systems of care
  • Universal Competency: Use a trauma- and survivor-informed, culturally responsive approach

“In implementing these competencies as standard health professional education and practice, health systems will increase the likelihood of identification and referral, improve overall health outcomes, and prevent future exploitation and re-exploitation from occurring,” said Katherine Chon, director of OTIP.

The core competencies were developed over a three-year consultation period with, health care, behavioral health and social service experts as well as survivors, all of whom identified the need for a strategy to improve health systems and providers’ response to human trafficking. These experts represented a broad range of disciplines, including general practice, psychiatry, pediatrics, emergency medicine, child protection, nursing, behavioral health, research, health science and administration. OTIP worked with three key collaborators: HEAL Trafficking Visit disclaimer page , the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children Visit disclaimer page and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners Visit disclaimer page .

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To learn more, visit the Office on Trafficking in Persons website and the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center Visit disclaimer page  Visit disclaimer page.

Quick Facts

  • In 2020, the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888) received reports of more than 19,000 potential trafficking victims; 1,600 of those calls were made by health care and behavioral health professionals.
  • A 2016 study found that 67.6% of survivors who experienced labor and sex trafficking had encountered a health care professional during the time they were experiencing human trafficking, yet none of them were identified as a victim during the encounter.

Statements from Collaborators

“Health care professionals and administrators are eager to assist trafficked persons and those at risk — this set of core competencies helps them accomplish this goal. It delineates specific steps and concrete action items that will help current and future health professionals provide trauma-informed care to those in need, with the support of their institutions. It calls on academicians to build an evidence base regarding human trafficking that will drive effective prevention and intervention strategies,” said Medical Director of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, Dr. Jordan Greenbaum.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a wake of human trafficking vulnerability. Now, more than ever, health professionals need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to care for trafficked persons,” said Founding Executive Director of HEAL Trafficking and Emergency Physician, Dr. Hanni Stoklosa.

"In the face of rising awareness among health professionals of vulnerable, exploited, and trafficked individuals, this practical guide provides actionable items spanning the care continuum. Crossing health disciplines, these inclusive core competencies inform, engage, and equip individual care providers, health systems and organizations, as well as academic institutions with invaluable guidance for action,” said President of NAPNAP, Jessica Peck.

“We greatly appreciate the leadership of the Office on Trafficking in Persons to develop and publish these core competencies that will build the capacity of health and behavioral health professionals, including those within the IHS system, to recognize and respond to potential victims of trafficking,” said Ms. Elizabeth Fowler, Acting Director, Indian Health Service. “We are wholly committed to patient-centered care and see these core competencies as aligned with our mission to raise the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska natives (AI/AN) to the highest level.”

Read the official press release and learn more about how health workers can help people who have experienced trafficking Visit disclaimer page .