Combating Human Trafficking: An Interview With Hanni Marie Stoklosa, MD, MPH

Interview with Hanni Marie Stoklosa, MD, MPH

By Rachel I. Fortinsky

Dr. Hanni M. Stoklosa, MD, MPH

Hanni Marie Stoklosa, MD, MPH’s background as a BWH emergency physician has inspired her work in addressing human trafficking. She founded an organization focused on combating human trafficking. Health Education Advocacy Linkage (HEAL) Trafficking  (  focuses on addressing the health-related problems that trafficked victims face from a public health standpoint. In her role as researcher, advocate, and nationally and internationally recognized expert, she has years of experience in addressing this global problem. Dr. Stoklosa has done extensive research in all areas of trafficking including sex trafficking and labor trafficking. She is a leading force in addressing the myriad of health issues which are often overlooked by health professionals, as well as a force in advocating for human trafficking legislation before the US Congress. Dr. Stoklosa has advised the US Department of Health and Human Services and was recently named an American Board of Emergency Medicine fellow (2015-2017) of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine). She holds appointments at Harvard Medical School, the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. She has extensive international experience in many countries.  “I conducted qualitative interviews to further understand the anti-trafficking landscape and the gaps in response.” Her work has affected populations in India, Nepal, Thailand, and Kazakhstan, as well as Australia, China, Egypt, Guatemala, Liberia, the Philippines, South Sudan, and Taiwan. Most recently, Dr. Stoklosa has written a text (forthcoming, Springer Publishing in 2017) Human Trafficking Is a Public Health Issue: A Paradigm Expansion in the United States.

The US Department of State views human trafficking as a form of modern day slavery. Each year, a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is generated by the Department of State. As Secretary of State John F. Kerry stated: “The TIP Report is the product of a yearlong effort requiring contributions and follow-up from employees in the United States and at our diplomatic outposts across the globe, host country governments, and civil society” (US Department of State TIP website, 2016). Overall, Dr. Stoklosa noted that she is impressed with the efforts of the Obama Administration in addressing human trafficking. She offered examples of successes and shared her optimism with the five-year federal strategic action plan. Dr. Stoklosa stated, The federal government laid out a multi-sectoral response which encourages intra-federal agency collaboration. The plan helps break down silos and create cross links to enhance responses trafficking.” President Obama also formed an advisory committee consisting of human trafficking survivors to guide federal approaches from the victims’ perspective.

In her role as a BWH Emergency Department physician, Dr. Stoklosa says the department treats approximately one to two trafficked patients weekly. Although trafficking is often viewed as an international problem in resource-limited settings, the US and the Boston area are not immune to the problem. When identified in the BWH Emergency Department often the patients can be followed in the CARE clinic which is overseen by Annie Lewis-O’Connor, PhD, RN, NP, FAAN. Identification and assessment of trafficked patients is challenging. Often patients do not think of themselves as trafficked or are reluctant to disclose information out of fear, shame or denial. Similar to those who are affected by intimate partner violence, “the focus is not on rescue, but meeting patients where they are at, and caring for their stated needs.”  She has written a paper on HIPPA and Human Trafficking which addresses the complex privacy issues in caring for trafficked individuals. An emerging health issue commonly seen in trafficked individuals is substance abuse. The widespread use of drugs, particularly heroin, among trafficked patients, as Dr. Stoklosa explained, “is because it’s either the traffickers to method of coercing them to work or the survivor’s way of coping with physical and emotional trauma.”