Human Trafficking: How Healthcare Leaders Can Help

Every 30 seconds, someone becomes a victim of trafficking

Healthcare professionals are in the unique position to notice, intervene, report and raise awareness of a number of horrible and often illegal activities. Some issues may raise questions of confidentiality and be subject to institutions’ reporting mechanisms but awareness is the important and first step. One major growing international and domestic issue is the often silent, underground epidemic of human trafficking. Approximately 21 million victims of human trafficking live in the condition of modern-day slavery worldwide. 800,000 victims cross international borders annually, 50,00 into the United States alone.

Germany is 2nd to the United States as a trafficking destination. 80% of victims are women and 50% of these are minors. The International Labor Organization estimates human trafficking is a 32-billion-dollar industry and the 3rd largest money maker for organized crime. Of interest to healthcare leadership is that 50% of these victims will seek medical treatment while in captivity.

The U.S. Department of State defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude…or slavery.” Sex trafficking is defined as “when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or when the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” An 8-point quiz published by Dr. Vivian B. Pender in Psychiatric Times illustrates common misperceptions about human trafficking. Included in this article are such things as the location of the largest trafficking venues in the U.S. and the number of countries with legalized prostitution (100). She also outlines risk factors for sex trafficking and primary psychological symptoms of victims. Of interest is what healthcare professionals can look for as well as steps that can be taken if trafficking is suspected.

Common health problems among trafficking victims are anxiety, depression, chronic pain, cigarette burns, contusions, fractures, abortion complications, GI problems, headaches, oral health issues, pelvic or vaginal pain, PTSD and STD’s. Other possible clues to trafficking include evidence of being controlled, inability to move or leave a job, fear of deportation, recent arrivals to the U.S., non-English speaking and lack of proper ID.

The first step to a successful intervention is to speak to the individual alone and establish an environment of trust. This gives health service providers unique access and opportunity not available to many others. The healthcare provider should report suspicions to managers and/or local law enforcement. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 is a referral line to local resources for the victim as well as establishing a safety plan.

Human trafficking is a major international health concern and it is vital that we are aware of it. Healthcare professionals are often the only professionals able to interact with victims. We need to be prepared to identify, treat and assist these victims as part of our daily practice.

NHS Solutions has available Interim Healthcare Leaders with experience across the spectrum of clinical and non-clinical specialties, including behavioral health. Contact us to discuss any interim needs within your healthcare organization or if you are considering the next step in your career. Our unique business model includes a full benefits package.

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