Share Our Stories: An Exploration of the Healthcare Experiences of Child Sex Trafficking Survivors

Abstract [from journal]

Background: The trafficking of children and adolescents is widespread, and pediatric providers are on the front line. Current research demonstrates that trafficked children do access health care. However, few studies describe these interactions from their perspectives. In order to elucidate the healthcare experiences of sex trafficked children, we designed a qualitative study utilizing semi-structured interviews to explore their health care interactions.

Participants and setting: Homeless youth currently aged 18-21 who were sex trafficked before age 18.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seventeen youth who met the study criteria. Interview transcripts were coded and analyzed using constant comparative methods. Themes were inductively extracted by consensus with the study team, and thematic saturation was determined when no new themes emerged.

Results: Themes included: victims endured serious injuries and illnesses without being brought to medical attention, traffickers limited victims' access to care, logistical barriers limited access, traffickers directed victims to lie to providers, and medical providers rarely separated victims to interview them separately resulting in missed opportunities.

Conclusions: These themes illustrate the experiences of sex trafficked youth experiencing homelessness and provide pediatric practitioners the opportunity to become more informed and equipped to recognize them. They also highlight serious health consequences of not being identified and egregious examples of providers exhibiting denial or inappropriate responses to their disclosure.