Washington Post, Jan. 4, 2020 at 7:30 a.m. EST
An emergency room patient has a broken bone. Could she suffer from human trafficking, too?
Thanks to a growing call to treat trafficking as a public health problem, an ER worker who treats a trafficking victim might be able to connect the dots.
Trafficking occurs when someone exploits someone else sexually or makes them perform labor against their will. According to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, an estimated 24.9 million people are being trafficked worldwide. The vast majority are women, and 1 in 4 victims are children.
Because of a lack of data, it’s difficult to estimate how many victims live in the United States. In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is operated by an anti-trafficking nonprofit group called Polaris, helped identify more than 23,000 survivors. That’s thought to be just a tiny fraction of the real number.
Trafficking doesn’t just jeopardize human freedom — it threatens public health. Victims experience injuries, sexually transmitted diseases and problems with everything from cardiovascular health to teeth. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are also common.
Trafficking happens under the table, but its survivors come into contact with health-care workers more than you might think. One study found that nearly 88 percent of victims interacted with a health-care worker while being trafficked.
There’s a growing push among doctors, paramedics and other health-care professionals to help end trafficking. Organizations such as HEAL Trafficking, a group of survivors and professionals in 35 countries, are teaching health-care systems to identify potential victims and respond to their needs.
In 2018, Congress passed legislation that created a federally sponsored trafficking-related continuing education program for health-care workers. The SOAR protocol trains health-care workers to Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond to potential trafficking and teaches them how to connect victims to needed care and relevant services. Data collection also is improving because of recently implemented diagnostic codes that allow health-care providers to identify cases of suspected and confirmed trafficking.
It will take more work to end trafficking, but change could well start in the doctor’s office.
If you are being trafficked or suspect someone else is, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888, or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733.