Human Trafficking: A Social Worker’s Role

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Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act and is often called “modern-day slavery.” As a long time member of Zonta International, an international service organization, I became aware of human trafficking through the work Zonta was funding to aid in the prevention and intervention of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzogovnia. I was living in Florida at the time, and a group of other Florida Zonta members, inspired by the work going on in Bosnia and Herzogovinia, starting exploring what was happening in the United States and realized that trafficking was not an “over there” problem.

This was in the early days of awareness and a Zonta member, Nola Theiss, started Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships (HTAP) to help bring awareness and local coalitions together. I was asked to be on the Board of the new non-profit because of my social work background and interest in human rights issues. After serving on the Board I was elected as the Board President, supporting their direction and work. After my relocation to Nevada to join the faculty at UNR, the work was harder to accomplish long distance and I ultimately resigned my position but my interest in the issue has remained.


“I would like to challenge social workers going into the field to acknowledge that all forms of human trafficking exist and that all those victimized need the attention of social work.”


Human Trafficking includes labor trafficking, such as hotel work or farm labor, domestic servitude, and sex trafficking. Social workers have important roles in the prevention and intervention of those victimized by this crime and of those who victimize. From a prevention perspective, social workers can, for example, talk to their clients about the warning signs of potential exploitation and how to access help as well as offer clinical and other supports to those at-risk of victimizing others (micro); they can help educate their greater communities of the warning signs of victimizing behavior and victimization and involve themselves in greater community efforts (macro); and they can voice the social work perspective to politicians and lawmakers who make choices about funding programs for those most vulnerable to victimization such as the homeless, immigrants, and unprotected children and to victimizing such as disenfranchised groups, those lacking strong, supportive family structures, and the financially and educationally underserved (mezzo).

From an intervention perspective, social workers can play a role in providing direct support to those victimized through advocacy, psychoeducational, and clinical interventions (micro); educating the community and service providers about the needs of those victimized (mezzo); and advocating for infrastructure and funding for intervention and treatment programs (macro). These are but a few ways that social workers can engage on this issue.

I would like to challenge social workers going into the field to acknowledge that all forms of human trafficking exist and that all those victimized need the attention of social work. I would challenge social workers to work diligently to address the social issues that lead to the victimization of others. The existence of human trafficking is a result of greater societal problems – childhood abuse and neglect, poverty, lack of educational opportunity, addiction, mental illness, homelessness, war, and dislocation, to name only a few. I would challenge social workers to uphold their social work values with all persons as we, together as a profession, can guide the conversations and the work of obtaining social justice for all.

Jennifer Massie, University of Nevada, Reno | Master of Social Work
Title IV-E Training Coordinator


Suggested Readings

How to Find Work-life Balance as a Social Worker

Social Work vs. Sociology: What’s The Difference?

University of Nevada, Reno Online Master of Social Work