Posted in Education
March 16th, 2018

Signs of Trafficking: A Healthcare Professional’s Guide

Healthcare professionals work tirelessly day after day to bind wounds, heal sicknesses, and save lives. They also play a crucial role in helping victims of sex trafficking.

In one study, almost 88% of trafficking survivors reported accessing healthcare services during their trafficking situations. Medical professionals are in the position to identify the signs of human trafficking and provide victims with the care they need.

Recognizing Victims of Child Trafficking

Despite the high number of human trafficking victims that seek healthcare treatment, many hospitals and clinics lack formal training for healthcare professionals. With or without training programs, healthcare professionals can play a vital part in helping victims escape the life they are trapped in

Here is a list of  list of signs that a child may be in a trafficking situation that healthcare professionals can look for:

    • Physical or sexual abuse
    • Early sexual initiation
    • Pregnancy at a young age
    • Abortion at a young age
    • Trauma to the genitalia
    • Sexually transmitted infections
    • Urinary tract infections
    • High number of sexual partners
    • Highly sexualized dress or behavior
    • Inappropriate dress for the weather or situation
    • Running away from home or foster care
    • Truancy
    • Alcohol or drug use
    • Suspicious tattoos or branding
    • Angry and aggressive behavior
    • Depressed or anxious behavior
    • Frequent emergency care visits
    • Advanced health problems that should have been treated earlier but weren’t
    • Conflicting stories about injury or health issue
  • Someone else is speaking for the patient

How to Respond if a Child is Being Trafficked

If a child exhibits the signs listed above and you think that they may being trafficked, taking action is crucial.

Meet the health and safety needs – First and foremost, you are there to provide the victims with the best care possible. Address their emotional and physical needs, and ensure that they feel safe. It is also important to accurately document the patient’s injuries and treatment in their records.

Speak to the individual one-on-one – Create a safe space where the victim will feel comfortable. Be sure to use understandable language to address the issue and inform them of their rights. If possible, bring in a social worker or advocate. Ask the victim questions such as Have you been forced to engage in sexual activity for money or favors? Does someone take all or any of your money? Do not ask for unnecessary information. Your goal is not disclosure or rescue but to identify the trafficking situation and provide assistance. If your institution does not have a plan for such situations, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline may help you determine next steps.

Report if necessary – Certain states require by law the reporting of human trafficking situations, and you should know the mandates for reporting in your state. If a minor is involved, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) mandates that you report the situation. Be sure to abide by all HIPAA laws while reporting. Reporting is further complicated when the victim has fear or loyalty toward their trafficker and doesn’t want to report. You should take their well-being and wishes into account. Provide them with resources to get help when they are ready.

Coordinate care with other providers Ensure that their basic, legal, emotional, and safety needs are met. This can include clothing, shelter, mental health care, family contact, prosecution of trafficker, and more.

Dignity Health – A Case Study

Dignity Health is a healthcare provider with 400 care centers across 21 U.S. states. In 2017, it launched the Human Trafficking Response Program in 40 of its hospitals, starting with the labor and delivery and emergency departments before expanding to all services.

The program is designed to help victims of human trafficking be recognized in a healthcare setting to ensure they receive the proper care. Dignity Health has created a task force consisting of nurses, social workers, security staff, patient registration, and chaplains to assist in the process.

Holly Gibbs, director of the Human Trafficking Response program said, “Too often trafficker persons are isolated and stigmatized by society. Each time a trafficked person visits a Dignity Health facility, we have an opportunity to provide an experience where he or she feels included, accepted, and respected, as well as to educate this person about personal rights and community resources. The essence of victim-centered care is that hopefully, over time, this person will accept or seek assistance.”

We need your help. The fight against modern-day slavery needs to include the brave doctors and nurses around the world. Whether your institution currently has an implemented plan or not, you are the frontline for recognizing and caring for victims. With your help, all victims can become survivors.

If you are interested in knowing the signs of trafficking in your workplace, please email knowthesigns@ourrescue.org. You’ll receive updates on our upcoming training curriculum.

By Maggie Kuta

What can YOU Do?


In order to most effectively fight human trafficking, it is important to learn about the common myths and misconceptions about it. Read about 5 myths and realities of sex trafficking HERE.

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