Bailey Premo BSN, RN – As a registered nurse working in Central PA and a current graduate nursing student at Millersville University, over the last few years, the problem of human trafficking has become something I simply can’t ignore. While it feels like a distant problem that doesn’t impact our communities, unfortunately, this isn’t the case. It’s a public health concern that is taking place right here in Central PA and it should be a greater concern in healthcare, both locally and nationally, where we have the unique opportunity to make a difference.
Over the last several years, through my wife’s involvement in the fight against trafficking and listening to the stories that she shares, I keep returning to the same question “how did all of these healthcare providers miss it?” Plenty of these stories involve a trip to the ED or extended hospitalization. My initial, and admittedly self-righteous, reaction is frustration that this many healthcare providers had ample opportunity to see the wounds and scars, both physical and emotional, and failed to do so. But the hard realization for me is that I probably would have too. An even harder realization for me is that I probably have. Statistically speaking, I have probably encountered victims of trafficking more than once and had no idea. I have worked for numerous healthcare organizations, and I can say that I have never had any formal training in human trafficking awareness or how to identify a trafficking victim and if it hadn’t been for my own research in my graduate work, I still probably wouldn’t know what to look for.
Movies and TV have given many of us inaccurate expectations for victims of trafficking. A child abducted from a playground. A woman with a gun to her head. That’s not to say that these situations never occur, but they are the minority. The media never told me that often the trafficker of a child is a parent or caretaker. They never told me that most trafficking victims don’t even realize they are being trafficked and some might even claim to love their trafficker because it’s the closest thing to a caretaker they’ve ever known. But there are signs/signals, and they aren’t entirely hidden if you know what to look for, but it starts with telling those who are most likely to see it up close what they are. Healthcare providers are one of the few who have this unique opportunity as the people whose job involves asking them the most personal questions and examining them the most closely.
I don’t entirely blame the healthcare industry for this. Even without the Covid-19 pandemic adding extra weight to the demands on healthcare professionals, the extensive and overload of training we receive often can only scratch the surface of some of the possibilities we might encounter. As an industry, we are forced to make hard choices about what we prioritize. So while I struggle to blame the healthcare industry, rather it has me asking the question “why not?” Why can’t it be standard training? Why can’t it be one of those priorities? Especially given that any one of our patients is a risk for being trafficked.
Whether we recognize it or not, we were living in a pandemic long before Covid-19 with the rate of human trafficking victims. No one is immune to this “pandemic” and there is hardly a “vaccine.” But there is much more that the healthcare industry can do to help. An eye-opening statistic is that despite living in captivity, 88% of trafficked victims receive some form of healthcare at least once (Lester, 2021). This seems like a missed opportunity.
Other than furthering education and training to upcoming healthcare workers as well as current staff members, there are other simple interventions that can be implemented into practice. One example, Haney (2019) recommends a series of screening questions to ascertain any potential human trafficking signs. In addition to this, bedside providers could also familiarize themselves with the National Human Trafficking Hotline that has endless resources and educational information on handling any potential trafficking instances. While the argument can be made that healthcare providers are already stretched as far as education, these are simple measures that offer an opportunity to identify and help this vulnerable population.
I hope that this post can help shed some light into the necessity of further training of our healthcare workers to help work to end this ongoing issue. We have the unique opportunity to speak into this problem and rather than lamenting missed opportunities, we have a chance to say that we made a difference.
Haney, K. N. (2019). Increasing Public Health Awareness of the Intersection Between Human Trafficking and the Opioid Epidemic…Footer KHA, Park JN, Allen ST, et al. Police-related correlates of client-perpetrated violence among female sex workers in Baltimore City, Maryland. Am J Public Health. 2019;109(2):289–295. American Journal of Public Health, 109(9), e3. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305216
Lester, S. E. (2021). Human Trafficking: The Other Global Pandemic. KBN Connection, 68, 18–20.
National hotline overview. National Human Trafficking Hotline. (2020, July 16). Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://humantraffickinghotline.org/national-hotline-overview.