How medical staff is trained to recognize and intervene on signs of human trafficking

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 6:16 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Doctors, nurses, receptionists and other workers within the medical field are uniquely positioned to intervene in cases of human trafficking. That’s because nearly 90% of people who are victimized by human trafficking see a doctor or a nurse at least once a year. Recognizing the signs of trafficking isn’t always easy for those staff members.

“We’re seeing people who are victimized by human trafficking all the time, we’re just calling it by a different name,” said Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator, Teresa Davidson.

Prostitution, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues -- these are things that might be easy to spot, but the root cause isn’t.

“All of these things if we looked a little deeper we would probably find some form of exploitation,” said Davidson.

She says identifying a victim isn’t like how it’s portrayed in movies They can look like normal, healthy people. And training medical staff to intervene goes beyond just calling the police.

“A lot of times they have threats hanging over them, they might have children, they have things that they might need to take care of before they can actually leave the situation,” said Davidson.

If the patient shows any signs, the intervening starts with a simple question; “What do you need?”

From there, if the victim accepts help, staff is trained to offer any and all services available.

If they deny help, staff is trained to make efforts to understand the victim. Which can lead them to the help they need.

“Let’s be trauma informed conversationalists. Let’s ask that question, help me understand why you made that choice, help me understand why you want this,” said Tish Young, COO of Chains Interrupted.

Because so many more victims are seeing a doctor or nurse, without the person trafficking them, time is crucial.

“We may be their only chance, we may be the only person that the trafficker is allowing them to be with and we need to take that chance,” said Davidson.

This sort of training is not mandatory nation wide. Many medical centers don’t have any sort of training to identify or intervene.

Davidson says she hopes they can pass a bill that would mandate training like this in medical centers across the country.

To get help, or report trafficking, you can call 1-888-373-7888, text HELP to BEFREE (233733), email, or chat online.