A Threat to Healing and a Barrier to Recovery: An Assessment of Health Impacts of Criminalization Through the Stages of Domestic Sex Trafficking
Hill, Justine A.
Mullins, Kelsey J.
MetadataShow full item record
Criminalization of domestic sex trafficking victims in the US is a pervasive issue. Indeed, a survey of US trafficking survivors, where respondents were largely survivors of sex trafficking, found that 90.8% had been arrested. However, discussions surrounding this issue often fail to address a core component of the injustice: its implications on survivors’ health and wellbeing. We take a novel lens, analyzing the criminalization of sex trafficking survivors through survivor health and wellbeing across six stages of the trafficking experience, to enable a fuller understanding of the issue––an understanding that centers on survivors. We find that during recruitment, the cyclical and reinforcing relationships of criminalization, sex trafficking, and negative health implications emerge. During exploitation, the criminalization of victims compounds trauma and prevents them from accessing social and medical services. Detention likewise compounds trauma and increases traffickers’ control over victims, making it more difficult to exit trafficking. Even after victims escape trafficking, criminalization stymies survivor recovery because it serves as a reminder of the trafficking experience and criminal records function to disempower individuals. Having a criminal record hinders survivor integration and serves as a barrier for reaching autonomy and self-defined goals. Finally, criminal records increase survivor vulnerability to being re-trafficked––because the barriers created by criminal records leave few options for fully reintegrating to life outside of trafficking–– reversing the recovery process completely. Our findings reveal an immense need to improve safety and services for survivors during the trafficking experience, and so we call for an interdisciplinary, multi-agency response to trafficking which centers on the survivor experience in contrast to the current approach to anti-trafficking work which focuses largely on the prosecution and punishment of traffickers. An improved response would de-center the criminal justice system while still expanding criminal record relief for survivors. Future health research about the experiences of trafficking survivors should consider criminalization as a factor of survivor health and wellbeing and build on our findings with empirical studies.
Domestic Sex Trafficking
Criminal Record Relief
Hill, J.A. & Mullins, K.J. (2022). A Threat to Healing and a Barrier to Recovery: An Assessment of Health Impacts of Criminalization Through the Stages of Domestic Sex Trafficking. UNESCO Working Paper Series 005-06-2022. 4W Initiative, University of Wisconsin-Madison.