IOM Finland: Learning How to Treat Victims of Trafficking

Migration Health

Helsinki – Treating victims of human trafficking can be a challenge for health care personnel. On Thursday, 23 August, IOM Finland organized a workshop on this subject together with the US Embassy in Finland and the National Institute for Health and Welfare.

The guest lecturer was Hanni Stoklosa, an American expert on human trafficking who works as an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and has collaborated with IOM globally for several years.

Stoklosa said she realized that there were victims of trafficking amongst her patients only after working there for some time. “I was a Harvard-trained doctor and I knew nothing about this – it was appalling!”

She said that spreading the knowledge and doing research on the health care of victims of human trafficking has become her calling in life. On Thursday, she shared her knowledge with an audience of health and social workers, and representatives from organizations and institutions at the workshop held at THL, the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki.

The workshop was part of the on-going HOIKU-project at IOM Finland, focused on bettering the knowledge of identifying and treating victims of human trafficking among the health care professionals and social workers in Finland. The project is funded by the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health organizations (STEA).

According to Stoklosa, medical professionals have both an excellent opportunity and a responsibility to identify victims of trafficking and helping them get the care they need. She points out that the physical trauma is easier to treat – the mental scars can last for a life time.

“They are also invisible, and few people admit to them, so you have to be aware of the signs of depression, for instance.”

She quoted a survey that showed that an astounding 71 per cent of victims of trafficking said that they are still afraid of their traffickers even after they had gotten out of the trafficking situation. To use trauma-informed care in the treatment of these patients is very important.

One thing Stoklosa wanted to underline was that doctors and nurses must change the point of view when it comes to victims of trafficking, or of abuse in general.

“The goal is not disclosure, to do a diagnosis. We need to plant seed that keeps the door open for them to return – we have to build trust for that to happen.”

In the afternoon, the workshop continued with case studies in smaller groups and discussions on how professionals working with victims of trafficking can support their recovery and alleviate the consequences of trauma.

During the first six months of 2018, 115 cases were referred to the Assistance System for Victims of Trafficking in Finland and 76 cases were accepted into the system. In 2017, the assistance system handled 127 cases (14 were minors) of which 38 per cent had been trafficked to Finland.

The HOIKU project has trained over 300 health care professionals and social workers during this year and more trainings are lined up. With the support of STEA, the Interior Ministry of Finland and the Social and Welfare Ministry of Finland the project has produced a booklet in Finnish and Swedish on the initial identification of victims of human trafficking and is producing a more comprehensive guide on treating these victims.

The guides can be found here:

For more information, please contact: Jaana Sipilä, IOM Helsinki, Tel: +358 9 684 11522, Email:

  • Booklets in Finnish and Swedish on the initial identification of victims of human trafficking and is producing a more comprehensive guide on treating these victims.