Insights From Wapiti

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Recognizing Human Trafficking Signs in a Healthcare Setting

A recent article from Mag Mutual focuses on the role of healthcare in combating human trafficking.

Not Just a Big City Issue

Human trafficking is a growing problem in the United States, and it is a mistake to think midwestern states are immune from this horrific crime. For example, Michigan, Missouri, and Nebraska all rank high among states when it comes to human trafficking cases. According to a 2017 report, rural communities in the Midwest may be better equipped to face the problem than larger population centers. Part of that includes educating medical professionals to recognize and respond to human trafficking.

Human Trafficking and Healthcare

A common misconception about human trafficking is that victims remain hidden from view. In fact, almost 90% of trafficking survivors report they sought medical treatment during their ordeal.  That means there is a high probability that providers and staff will encounter people being exploited sexually or for their labor. Victims may present with signs or symptoms of sexually transmitted disease, physical or sexual injury, mental health issues, pregnancy complications, and substance abuse.

Signs of Human Trafficking

A few behaviors that may signal a patient is a victim of trafficking can include,

  • Lack of personal identification
  • Reluctance to answer questions or appearing to speak from a “script”
  • Avoiding eye contact and other anxious behaviors
  • Another person is accompanies them. This person may be controlling and answer for the patient
  • Lack of awareness of where they are (state, city)
  • Wearing inadequate clothing for the weather conditions

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of indicators, and their presence in a patient doesn’t necessarily mean they are being trafficked, these characteristics can provide helpful general guidelines for medical professionals to consider. The healthcare industry has a unique opportunity to encounter and assist these victims. The Institute for Healthcare and Human Trafficking (IHHT) is an excellent resource for those who want to learn more.