Human Trafficking and Health Care

n recent years, with more knowledge being gained about the human trafficking industry, one setting that can make a big difference in helping to rescue women is the healthcare industry. What most individuals think of as an underground and hidden crime may actually be quite visible in hospitals and clinics. A trafficked girl or woman faces a multitude of health issues. These range in sexual/reproductive health, mental health and general health. One study in particular, published by Loyola School of Law, illustrates how the healthcare system is failing trafficked women and children. Out of over 100 survivors interviewed 88% said they had contact with a health care provider at some point while being trafficked. The majority were emergency room visits followed by clinical treatment facilities like Planned Parenthood and Urgent Cares. Many of these women are often too afraid to say anything about their situation and although red flags appear, nothing is done to rescue them.

With these new statistics being revealed, more action is being taken. As of June 2018 The Joint Commission published an article on how to identify trafficked patients. Students training to be medical professionals are now also being educated on what signs to look out for. Not only that, but information on the matter is also important for treating patients that once have been trafficked. The majority of these women still suffer from long-term psychological issues, reproductive problems, drug dependency and diseases.

Listed below are signs you may find when a patient is being trafficked:

* Poor mental health

* Fearful, anxious, depressed, or paranoid

* Limited eye contact

* Lack of cooperation with parts of the physical exam

* Excuses for how the injury came about

* Does not want to follow through on treatment

* Poor physical health

* Malnourished

* Signs of exposure to injurious substances

* Other signs of physical, sexual or mental abuse

* Does not have any control of their identification or paperwork

* Not allowed to speak for themselves

* Unable to clarify address

* Confusion on their whereabouts

* Inconsistencies in their story

* Tattoos/brands/markings

If you believe a patient is being trafficked the key to gathering more information is to remain nonjudgemental and gaining trust. It may be difficult, but getting the patient alone to ask simple plain-language questions will be helpful.

Here’s a list of questions you can ask:

* Where do you stay?

* Who do you live with?

* Is your family there? / Do they know where you are?

* Has your ID or documentation been taken from you?

* Have you ever been denied food, water, shelter, sleep or care?

* Have you been threatened if you try to leave?

* Has your family been threatened?

* Are you being physically or sexually harmed in any way?

* Are you forced to do anything against your will?

Finally the last step is to make the judgement if the immediate action needs to be taken. If the patient is under the age of 18 you must follow the mandatory state reporting laws. If it’s an adult you are dealing with you can provide them with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s phone number as well as other resources. Often they are hesitant to take any information for fear of their safety. The next best step is making sure the appointment and the abuse is well documented, using facts and quotes as much as possible. Lastly, if you believe the individual is in life-threatening danger, you may report it to law enforcement. These patients can be distrustful and will likely not want any trouble, but it is important to make an attempt to connect them to help. With Texas being the second largest state for human trafficking reports, healthcare professionals in DFW can make a huge difference in rescuing victims.