Research conducted by Cathy Zimmerman, a founding member of the Gender Health and Violence Centre (GHVC), put the physical and mental health of women trafficked for sexual exploitation firmly on the international agenda.
Between 2000 and 2003, Zimmerman conducted a qualitative study on women’s health and trafficking in the European Union which highlights the health risks and impact on the victims.
The study has made exceptional advances in shedding light on trafficking. It has:
- generated the first-ever guidance for health providers caring for trafficking victims
- resulted in the UK giving trafficked women a longer period to decide whether to cooperate with any criminal investigation against their traffickers, and police training on victim symptoms and interview timing to support recovery
A second study, Stolen Smiles, carried out between 2003 and 2005:
- surveyed 207 women in seven European countries who had been trafficked into sex work or sexually abused as domestic labourers
- was the first to use epidemiological methods to investigate the physical, sexual and mental health of trafficked women and adolescents
- Trafficked women had high levels of injury, pain and sexually transmitted infections, for which they were often unable to seek treatment.
- By far the greatest problem was mental health, with 58% of women showing symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder at 14 days after entry into post-trafficking services.
- Symptoms of depression and anxiety were in the 90th percentile compared to a general population of adult women who had not been trafficked.
- For over 50% of trafficked women, these symptoms did not decrease significantly even 90 days after entering an assistance programme.
Based on this research, Zimmerman collaborated with Amnesty International UK to recommend that people who had been trafficked should be given a minimum 90-day period in which to decide whether to cooperate with any criminal investigation into their traffickers. This period would provide time for many women’s mental health to improve, enabling them to make more well-considered decisions.
While the UK Home Office stopped short of extending this period to 90 days, it increased the period from 30 to 45 days, exceeding the minimum required by the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking. This extension was influenced significantly by Zimmerman’s and Amnesty International UK’s advocacy.
- Impact Case Study from Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF), a new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.
- The Health of Trafficked Women: A Survey of Women Entering Posttrafficking Services in Europe
- The relationship of trauma to mental disorders among trafficked and sexually exploited girls and women
- Human trafficking and health: a conceptual model to inform policy, intervention and research
- Prevalence and risk of violence and the physical, mental, and sexual health problems associated with human trafficking: systematic review
- Lancet editorial
- Trafficking in Persons Report 2006
- Trafficking in Persons Report 2009
- Anti-human trafficking manual for criminal justice practitioners
- WHO Ethical and Safety Recommendations for Interviewing Trafficked Women
- Caring for Trafficked Persons: Guidance for Health Providers
- Caring for Trafficked Persons: Guidance for Health Providers Facilitator’s Guide