Detecting Human Trafficking in the Age of the Opioid

Imagine, for example, the heroin user in a local motel room. The motel manager calls the police because of complaints of suspected drug use from occupants in neighboring rooms, and police respond to encounter an eighteen-year-old female on heroin in the room of a motel that happens to be located in a high-prostitution area of town, with a male hurriedly exiting upon their arrival. Quite possibly, the officers who have responded are either the patrol unit on duty or vice and narcotics officers who were called because of complaints of drug use. In either case, the likelihood that these officers have completed a human trafficking training (although growing), is relatively slim, and the likelihood is slimmer still that they have received training specifically delineating the intersection between sex trafficking and heroin use.

She Leads a Lonely Life: When Sex Trafficking and Drug Addiction Collide6

Out of the wake of the war on drugs has risen the Opioid Epidemic which has swept Americans of all ages and demographics. There has been a marketed increase in prescription drug which in some drugs has been by as much as 500% since 1999.1 This has changed the way in which we approach drug use, and has informed how drug use in seen in the sphere of public health. We can see a carrying over of a belief that drug is an issue of criminal justice, rather than an issue of public health. The pathologizing of drug use has directly impacted the ways in which health care professionals treat drug users often seeing them as criminals first, and patients second. These attitudes directly inform how health care professionals treat their patients, and how they evaluate diagnoses. It is with this backdrop that we examine Human Trafficking, and the ways in which the opioid epidemic has influenced the ways in which healthcare providers identify survivors of human trafficking.

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The Enforcement Gap and the New York City Police Departments Treatment of LGBT Human Trafficking Survivors

Human Trafficking is a phenomena that occurs in all 50 States within the United States of America, largely occurring in large population or commerce hubs.6 Of these states one of the largest sites of trafficking is New York State, with dense population centers such as New York City which boasts 8.5 million individuals alone.7 This city serves as the perfect grounds for the trafficking of persons, especially of those who fall under the LGBTQ+ community. New York City has historically served as a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the stage for clashes between the community and local law enforcement. These clashes unfortunately continue on today between the New York City Police Department as individuals identifying within the LGBTQ+ community who experienced anti-LGBT violence 48% also experienced police misconduct. On the whole of the LGBTQ+ community surveyed in New York 54% were stopped by police which is compared to the 28% of non-LGBTQ+ individuals.4 These trends create barriers for law enforcement which directly effect the ability of law enforcement to identify and enforce policy around human trafficking. It is these barriers and their effects within New York City’s LGBTQ+ community that we will view with a critical lens today.

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