Research evidence on the health needs of human trafficking victims has been hugely influential – shaping international response and developing training materials used in over 155 countries.

Impacts

  • Dr Cathy Zimmerman's pioneering research on health and human trafficking persuaded policymakers to go beyond law enforcement responses and consider the physical and mental health needs of trafficked people. Her work has shaped international policy in key institutions, including the US State Department (including the Trafficking in Persons report), the World Health Organization, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, the International Organization for Migration, the UK Home Office and the US Agency for International Development.
  • Working with collaborating partners she has produced influential guidance on health, ethics and safety of trafficking victims. These tools have been translated into a dozen languages and used by international organisations, governments, law enforcement, healthcare providers and support services globally, gaining tens of thousands of website views.
  • Health provider training materials developed by Dr Zimmerman and colleagues at the International Organization for Migration have been used in over 155 countries, enhancing responses to the health needs of trafficked people in South America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the United States.
  • In the UK, her findings contributed to Department of Health and NHS responses to trafficked people. Her evidence on the mental health of survivors influenced the UK's decision to extend the time period for victims to decide whether it is safe to participate in criminal proceedings against their traffickers, beyond the minimum required by the European Convention Against Human Trafficking.

"The fact that more and more countries are providing health services free of charge to victims of trafficking, and that they are no longer being forced to return to states where their needs cannot be met, has its roots – to a large extent – in Cathy Zimmerman's work." (Helga Konrad, former Special Representative on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe)

About the research

"When I started this work, although there was growing awareness of the extreme abuses associated with human trafficking, there was strikingly little attention to the serious and often long-term physical and psychological damage suffered by victims," explains Dr Cathy Zimmerman.

"There were hardly any policies addressing survivors' health needs, almost no research on this topic, and no guidance for health practitioners," she continues. "I knew that groups assisting survivors wanted and would use robust scientific evidence to advocate for better health care for their clients."

Since the late 1990s, her research findings have demonstrated the wide range of abuses, confinement and deprivation experienced by trafficking victims and the profound consequences to their health and wellbeing. For example, more than half of trafficked women in her European study suffered enduring and debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Working closely with international and local organisations, she has used this evidence to help guide policy decisions and create tools for health practitioners and others to promote the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals who have fallen victim to trafficking. "Together, I think we have helped survivors receive more of the care they need, and certainly deserve, to recover from their ordeal," she states.