Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 408–416 | Cite as

Identifying Health Experiences of Domestically Sex-Trafficked Women in the USA: A Qualitative Study in Rikers Island Jail

  • Anita RaviEmail author
  • Megan Rose Pfeiffer
  • Zachary Rosner
  • Judy A. Shea


While sex trafficking in the USA is a significant medical and public health issue, there is sparse data on the healthcare needs of and access for this population. This study was designed to identify experiences of domestically sex-trafficked women regarding healthcare access, reproductive health, and infectious diseases while trafficked. Trafficking survivors incarcerated in New York City’s Rikers Island women’s jail participated in audio-recorded interviews between July and September 2015. Recordings were transcribed, and a content analysis was completed to identify health-related themes. Twenty-one women ranging from 19 to 60 years old were included in this study. Reasons for accessing care included sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV testing, unintended pregnancies, traumas, and chronic diseases. Emergency departments, Planned Parenthoods, and jails were common care sites. Traffickers and substance use impeded care and access to follow-up. Unintended pregnancy and STIs resulted in trafficker-perpetrated violence. Condoms, the most common form of contraception and HIV prevention, were inconsistently negotiated due to financial and violent consequences. These findings demonstrate that domestic sex trafficking survivors experienced chronic and acute health issues while trafficked and multiple barriers to care. Substance use and financial vulnerabilities furthered unintended pregnancy and infection risk. These findings can inform future research regarding healthcare access and practices for domestically trafficked women.


Sex trafficking Access to care Women Condoms HIV Reproductive health 



This work was supported by the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The Institutional Review Boards of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the University of Pennsylvania approved this study


Funding for this research was provided by the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. We sincerely thank Cecilia Flaherty, Carmen Gonzalez and Fatos Kaba of NYC Health and Hospitals and Virginia Shephard of Corizon Health for their generous time, feedback, and collaboration in designing and implementing this study.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.NYC Health and Hospitals, Correctional Health ServicesNew YorkUSA

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