The purpose of this study is to contribute to the social understanding of stigma as a societal and cultural barrier in the life of a survivor of human trafficking. The findings illustrate several ways where stigma is internal, interpersonal and societal and impacts survivors’ lives, including the care they receive.
This study used qualitative methods. Data collection occurred during 2018 with efforts such as an online survey (n = 45), focus groups (two focus groups of seven participants each) and phone interviews (n = 6). This study used thematic analysis of qualitative data.
The research team found that a multiplicity of stigma occurred for the survivors of human trafficking, where stigma occurred across three levels from micro to meso to macro contexts. Using interpretive analysis, the researchers conceptualized how stigma is not singular; rather, it comprises the following: bias in access to care; barriers of shaming, shunning and othering; misidentification and mislabeling; multiple levels of furthering how survivors are deeply misunderstood and a culture of mistrust.
While this study was conducted in a single US city, it provides an opportunity to create dialogue and appeal for more research that will contend with a lens of seeing a multiplicity of stigma regardless of the political climate of the context. It was a challenge to recruit survivors to participate in the study. However, survivor voices are present in this study and the impetus of the study’s focus was informed by survivors themselves. Finally, this study is informed by the perspectives of researchers who are not survivors; moreover, collaborating with survivor researchers at the local level was impossible because there were no known survivor researchers available to the team.
There are clinical responses to the narratives of stigma that impact survivors’ lives, but anti-trafficking response must move beyond individualized expectations to include macro responses that diminish multiple stigmas. The multiplicity in stigmas has meant that, in practice, survivors are invisible at all levels of response from micro, meso to macro contexts. Therefore, this study offers recommendations for how anti-trafficking responders may move beyond a culture of stigma towards a response that addresses how stigma occurs in micro, meso and macro contexts.
The social implications of examining stigma as a multiplicity is central to addressing how stigma continues to be an unresolved issue in anti-trafficking response. Advancing the dynamic needs of survivors both in policy and practice necessitates responding to the multiple and overlapping forms of stigma they face in enduring and exiting exploitative conditions, accessing services and integrating back into the community.
This study offers original analysis of how stigma manifested for the survivors of human trafficking. Building on this dynamic genealogy of scholarship on stigma, this study offers a theory to conceptualize how survivors of human trafficking experience stigma: a multiplicity of stigma. A multiplicity of stigma extends existing research on stigma and human trafficking as occurring across three levels from micro, meso to macro contexts and creating a system of oppression. Stigma cannot be reduced to a singular form; therefore, this study argues that survivors cannot be understood as experiencing a singular form of stigma.
The researchers would like to acknowledge the funds received from the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, Dr Jennifer Seelig, the Salt Lake City Council and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which supported a city-wide needs assessment. The findings and recommendations presented in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the official positions or policies of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, the Salt Lake City Council or the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Offices. The authors would also like to thank the Social Research Institute of the College of Social Work at University of Utah and graduate assistance from Allison O’Connor, MSW, LCSW and Lyndsi Drysdale. Additionally, the authors are grateful to the guest editor Dr Sarbinaz Bekmuratova, the anonymous reviewers and the editorial team at the International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare.
Fukushima, A.I., Gonzalez-Pons, K., Gezinski, L. and Clark, L. (2020), “Multiplicity of stigma: cultural barriers in anti-trafficking response”, International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJHRH-07-2019-