Modern Day Slavery: A Public Health Concern?

Guest Blogger: Carli Richie-Zavaleta

Social Justice in Public Health

Dan Beauchamp’s professional and academic works have established a legacy of connecting public health with social justice. It was during my first year of a graduate program at Drexel University School of Public Health when I was introduced to the framework of Social Justice in Public Health. Through Beauchamp’s social justice framework, we—public health students, practitioners, and researchers—are challenged to rethink our approaches to public health practice. He challenges us to dismantle the social structures of society and examine health disparities. His framework is to analyze health disparities as consequences of a lack of an ethical approach to the protection of the health of those who have limited or no social, political and economic power in society. Recognizing these social structures that benefit those in power and create disproportionate health disparities among vulnerable subgroups of the population is the first step. Secondly, it is not enough for Beauchamp to merely illuminate the health disparities in society. For him, being a public health doer is a collective movement that struggles politically to restructure fundamental systems of justice.

As I have experienced graduate school here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Beauchamp’s framework has resonated with me more and more. It has pushed me to rethink my public health doing in terms of finding approaches that continue to create collective definitions of public health that prevent health disparities. More importantly, it has challenged me to begin seeking a greater understanding of policy creation—one that would be effective at protecting those who are vulnerable due to health disparities.

Modern Day Slavery and Public Health – The Connection

It was twelve years ago when I first learned about Modern Day Slavery (MDS). It was through reading “Disposable People New Slavery in the Global Economy” by Kevin Bales (1998). MDS, commonly known as Human Trafficking or Trafficking in Persons, is a global issue that is found in most corners of the world—most likely in your own locality. Research of MDS victims’ vulnerabilities (qualities that put victims at higher risk prior to their experiences), speaks loudly of the inequalities and health disparities these people are burdened with, prior to their victimization (See Supplementary Reference List[i]). Here lies the call for concern for public health doers: to create a collective concern for MDS in our field, as a preventable social peril, especially for those who are most vulnerable. In addition, in our attempts to narrow the gap of health disparities, it raises the need to prioritize the creation of policies and accountability of said policies to protect the lives of those who are disenfranchised in our communities, including the United States of America.

No easy solutions exist to address social perils; yet, the history of mankind demonstrates that when collective forces unite their voices, talents, and resources, change happens. Examples of achieved social change in the context of the US are the African American man’s right to vote, a woman’s rights to vote, and more recently, the unconstitutionality of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). In the international context, the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Millennium Development Goals, and now the working of the Sustainable Development Goals are also great examples of collective movements that have forged new paths of justice and protection of human rights.

When I first learned about the social peril of MDS, I was hopeless and overwhelmed to say the least, but I have come to develop new perspective. I have seen through my professional and academic background that beginning with our locality, we can move forward to create change. California was the first state in the US to define MDS at a state level. This was a collective effort of local committed citizens, MDS survivors, non-for-profit organizations, and governmental agencies that came together to create a state-level definition of Human Trafficking. The goals were to be able to prosecute the Human Traffickers, but also to increase the protection of victims, to provide more financial resources to victims, and to create programs that focus on assisting and providing victims autonomy once more. The latter resulted in the creation and the passing of CASE (Californians Against Sexual Exploitation) with over 10 million votes! As I witnessed and participated in the process as part of this movement in my locality at the time, San Diego, California, I developed an approach to engage in social change:

CRZ graphic

The above model is not a simple one. It requires at the very least a commitment to the cause, time, and resources; nonetheless, that is what we are being challenged to do when we want to be doers of Public Health.

My hope is that you join me in the collective construction of MDS as a concern in the Public Health field in our localities. As we join together, we can propagate a culture of social justice that translates into the narrowing of human right violations and health disparities. As a MDS survivor put it, “…in the fight to abolish [MDS] we all stand in Unity! There is no big I’s and little U’s”.[1]

[1] Supplementary Reference List

  1. Bean, L. J. (2013, June 26). LGBTQ Youth at High Risk of Becoming Human Trafficking Victims. Retrieved June 14, 2014, from Administration for Children & Families:
  2. Greenbaum, V. J., and Crawford-Jakubiak, J. E. (2015, March). Child Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Health Care Needs of Victims. Pediatrics , 566-574.
  3. Greenbaum, V. J. (2014). Commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of children in the United States. Current problems in pediatric and adolescent health care , 44 (9), 245-269.
  4. Hodge, D. (2008). Sexual trafficking in the United States: a domestic problem with transnational dimensions. Social Work , 53 (2), 143-52.
  5. Oram S, S. ̈. (2012). Prevalence and Risk of Violence and the Physical, Mental, and Sexual Health Problems Associated with Human Trafficking: Systematic Review. PLoS Med , 9 (5), online.
  6. Polaris Project. (2014). Human Trafficking The Victims. Retrieved May 10, 2014, from Polaris Project:
  7. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2013, June 26). LGBTQ Youth at High Risk of Becoming Human Trafficking Victims. Retrieved June 14, 2014, from Administration for Children and Families:
  8. Walk Free Foundation. (2015, April 17). Findings. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from Global Slavery Index:

[2] Miller, D. (2013). I have a dream. In A. C. Richie-Zavaleta (Ed.), Unheard Voices of Redemption Transforming Oppression to Hope (p 125). San Diego: Justice Press. (Original work published 2013).

carli pic

 Arduizur Carli Richie-Zavaleta, MASP, MAIPS, DrPH(c)

Carli grew up in Mexico City and immigrated to the US at age sixteen. She has worked as a professor of Sociology, medical interpreter, program director, field researcher, and mediator with diverse populations in the United States and abroad—from children to adults with a range of socioeconomic, cultural, and racially diverse backgrounds. Since 2010, Carli has focused her energy on conducting social research on human trafficking in San Diego, California, as well as volunteering for non-for-profit organizations that reach out to victims trapped in sexual exploitation. Her research and advocacy work in San Diego, California culminated in the publication Unheard Voices of Redemption Transforming Oppression to Hope (2013)—an anthology of creative writing and essays from victims and those who advocate in ending Modern Day Slavery (MDS). Carli is currently a doctoral candidate in the School of Public Health at Drexel University under the department of Community Health and Prevention. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on understanding the experiences of MDS survivors in the health care settings with the aim to create feasible and viable intervention programs to identify and assist potential victims.

2 thoughts on “Modern Day Slavery: A Public Health Concern?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.