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Women victims of trafficking

This project sets out to determine the prevalence of common mental disorders among women who have been victims of human trafficking, a crime which is on the increase, especially in Eastern Europe. The research team will seek to establish whether depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and other common mental disorders are more likely if women have been severely abused during or prior to trafficking; if they have participated in prosecution proceedings; if they remain under threat from traffickers; if they have had a previous mental illness; and if social support and standard rehabilitation care from the International Organisation of Migration makes a difference to psychological recovery.

Many victims of trafficking live in poor countries where there is unemployment and lack of opportunity: they look to other countries for opportunities they do not have at home and become easy prey for traffickers making false promises about job offers abroad. Victims do not know there will be no payment for the work they do, that the work will be forced and that they will not be free to do as they want. They are not told they will have to pay off a ‘debt’ by working wherever the trafficker demands.

Women victims of trafficking are subjected to gross violations, including financial exploitation, physical and sexual assault and deprivation of liberty. Exploitation most commonly takes the form of forced prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, although they can also be exposed to forced work, slavery or practices similar to slavery. These violations are likely to affect the victims’ mental and physical health, but little research has been conducted about the prevalence of common mental disorders among women who have been trafficked. Recent international protocols call for services to be provided to victims of trafficking after they return to their country of origin.

In many countries, such as Moldova, centres are being set up to support women repatriated after trafficking. The long-term aim of this study is to develop treatments and services to meet the mental health needs of these women. In order to do this, there needs to be a better understanding of the factors that impact on their mental health, both before and during trafficking, and when returning to their country of origin.

The study aims to interview 175 women victims of trafficking who have been deported back to Moldova. Participants will be over 18 and originally resident in Moldova and will be recruited through the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that offers medical assessment and treatment, social welfare advice and psychological counselling for repatriated women survivors of trafficking at a rehabilitation centre in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.

All participants will be approached by women who have experience of working with victims of trafficking. Most of the assessments will be integrated into the standard assessment carried out by trained female staff as part of the IOM procedure. In addition, the research team will carry out a standardised diagnostic psychiatric interview. The researchers, working alongside IOM, will re-interview women after six to nine months to measure recovery of common mental disorders and to see which factors, including treatment and social support, are associated with a better chance of recovery.

Dr Nicolae Ostrovischi conducted the study and Dr Melanie Abas is principal investigator. The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust Health Consequences of Population Change Programme with a grant of £75,000.

International Organisation for Migration

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