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Human Trafficking Awareness Month: Offering hope and healing to youth in need

“Human trafficking is an issue that affects every country around the globe, and children are especially vulnerable. We want to help victims who have experienced this unimaginable trauma to heal; realize their inherent strength; and embrace a future full of promise.”
- Devereux Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical/Medical Officer  Yolanda Graham, M.D.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to lure victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. In 2019, the National Human Trafficking hotline reported 11,500 human trafficking cases in the U.S.

During Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health wants to highlight the urgent need to prioritize the fight against this form of modern-day slavery.

“Everyone deserves an opportunity to thrive and succeed in life,” said Graham. “For children and adolescents who have experienced emotional, physical and sexual trauma, we want to help them understand that their past does not define who they are in this world. For those who may be at risk for commercial sexual exploitation, we want to help them recognize warning signs to prevent trauma from occurring. That is our focus this year – prevention.”

Risk factors for human trafficking

Human trafficking can happen to anyone, but some individuals may be more vulnerable than others. According to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that runs the National Human Trafficking hotline, risk factors for human trafficking include:

  • Involvement with the child welfare system
  • Being a runaway or homeless youth
  • Recent relocation
  • Substance use
  • Mental health concerns

Supporting child survivors

Devereux Arizona’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) program provides comprehensive treatment for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma as a result of commercial sexual exploitation.

“In many cases, human traffickers groom their victims by offering compliments, money and other material items. Children may not fully comprehend what is happening or recognize that they are being victimized,” explained Devereux Arizona Clinical and CSEC Coordinator Heather Brady, M.A., LPC, BHP. “The healing process is difficult and delicate as we strive to build rapport with the individuals in our care and a relationship of trust. We validate their experiences; help them understand what happened; and support them on their path to recovery.”

Devereux Arizona is part of the Mercy Care Human Trafficking Collaborative Process for Minor Victims (the Collaborative), which is a public-private partnership between Mercy Care (an Arizona Medicaid health plan), police departments, court systems and multiple human services, behavioral health and medical providers. The goal of the Collaborative is to connect child sex trafficking victims with the services they need to overcome the significant trauma they have experienced in their young lives. Since 2017, the Collaborative has served and supported 291 children.

“Children who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation have highly specific needs,” Brady noted. “Our treatment strategies are designed to promote hope and healing as we work to help these individuals understand their trauma; avoid re-victimization; build their autonomy; and create new, healthier and happier lives.”

In addition to Arizona, Devereux’s CSEC services, which vary by state, are currently available in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Learn more about Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.


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