The Importance of Healthcare Providers in Identifying Trafficking Victims


A patient comes into the ER. She appears to be a young teen, but insists that she’s 19. She doesn’t have a license or other identifying documents. She may or may not be accompanied by a man, sometimes a much older man. The patient has indicated that she has had multiple sex partners and likely presents with symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases and appearances of abuse. Sometimes these signs, potential evidence of human trafficking, are caught by the staff in the ER, but most times they are not.

Only about two percent of our nation’s hospitals have a program for human trafficking help. Ninety-five percent of ER staff is not trained to identify potential trafficking victims. In a country that is the second to largest for trafficking in the world (second only to Germany), training healthcare workers to spot and treat trafficking victims is a crucial step in putting an end to this crime. Healthcare providers need to learn not only how to spot possible signs, but also how to safely transition the victim away from the trafficker and provide continuing care, both physical and psychological.

Human trafficking is a $32 billion dollar industry. It has become such a problem in the U.S. that the Federal Government has set up the Office on Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, directed by Katherine Chan. To help stop human trafficking a concerted effort needs to be made between the healthcare providers, law enforcement and advocacy groups to identify the victims and safely remove them from their captors while getting the emotional and physical help they need.

Approximately 85% of trafficking victims have indicated that they received medical care at least once during their captivity. Hospitals around the country are starting to see the importance of educating their emergency department staff to recognize the signs that a patient might be a trafficking victim.

The patient may be:

  • Accompanied by another person that answers questions for them or appears to be controlling in some way.
  • Unclear on what city they’re in and claim to be traveling.
  • Without ID or any documents with an address or date of birth.
  • Presenting with lingering infections or other chronic conditions that have not received medical attention.
  • Exhibiting psychological symptoms such as increased anxiety, panic or flat affect.

Adding additional education on human trafficking prevention in medical schools, residency programs and on-going continuing education seminars are imperative to putting an end to the trafficking epidemic. HIPPA regulations make reporting difficult. Connect with the social worker at your hospital now, before you encounter that next patient. You can set a tentative plan in place so that if you encounter a patient that you feel may be a victim of human trafficking you can contact the social worker at your hospital or local law enforcement, depending upon the arrangements you have set up at your particular hospital or urgent care.

If you are in the healthcare sector and would like more information on how you can provide human trafficking solutions, contact us, the Guardian Group, an organization against human trafficking that can provide you with resources and the next steps to take, learn more about the Guardian Seal® Training.