Human Trafficking: How Hospitals Can Identify Victims





Sherri Mason, MSN, FNP-C, Senior Consultant, Clinical Advisory Solutions

It’s not often that a blog broaches the difficult topic of human trafficking. But in my view, the subject is too important not to address since the first step to any change is awareness. The facts are that approximately two million adults and children in the United States are victims of human trafficking. And hospital staff are among the most likely people to encounter this hidden population. Knowing what to ask and what to look for at the point of care can save lives.

We’ve learned from survivors that approximately 87 percent of them were seen by health care providers while they were under the control of their traffickers, and 63 percent had been to the emergency department. These statistics show that, with training and supporting intervention programs, hospitals and their staff have a unique opportunity to identify victims and give them not only the care they need, but also the resources to break away from their captors.

In Sacramento, California, known as a high-trafficking area, a pilot study at UC Davis Medical Center brought to light how challenging it can be to identify victims. Over a seven-month period in 2017, a 14-question screening survey was administered to 143 medically stable, female patients ages 18-40 who presented to the ED. Survey results identified 46 potential trafficking victims, with 10 cases ultimately confirmed.  Of those 10 patients, none were identified solely on the basis of physicians’ concerns. The ‘a-ha’ moment? Questioning is crucial to identification. Through this and other studies and programs, awareness continues to increase, especially in January, which is the federally designated Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Several Vizient member hospitals provide employee training on this topic, and some have offered it for more than a decade. However, programs are still needed in all types of facilities – academic medical centers, community hospitals and even children’s hospitals -- to make a meaningful impact on the problem of human trafficking.

Developing a programmed response to clinician suspicion of trafficking

Emergency departments are at the heart of a hospital’s response to trafficking, but the most successful programs take an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach in their planning and implementation. Each role is important in the coordinated effort.

Emergency department leaders should determine program procedures and provide training for department staff that includes documentation of trafficking red flags and ways to intervene while protecting crucial evidence. This includes the implementation of protocols for working with law enforcement, establishing key contacts and outlining steps to avoid compromising critical information. Additionally, social workers and case managers should develop necessary resources and referrals for outpatient follow up and counseling. 

Of equal importance is the organizational and financial support from the hospital’s executive leadership team. The multifaceted coordination demonstrates a hospital’s commitment to assisting those caught up in the bonds of trafficking.

Other program components may include:

  • Assistance for health education programs that help the public recognize signs of human trafficking in the community and how to safely report it
  • Distribution of age-appropriate information to high school students
  • Inclusion of community and faith-based organizations that offer temporary housing, financial assistance and childcare services
  • Development of a reliable methodology for collecting data on victims for potential depositions and for grant proposals and funding requests for federal assistance

For more information about human trafficking and ways you can make a difference, visit the human trafficking hotline here. You may also contact Sherri Mason for assistance in identifying available resources or training. To report suspected human trafficking, call 866-347-2423.

About the author. Sherri Mason’s 25 years of experience in the health care industry include time spent in critical care, cardiac cath lab, interventional radiology and emergency department practice; clinical trial and IRB membership management; and medical-legal and hospital consulting. She has been published as a contributing textbook author for health information management, medical assisting and legal aspects of nursing; and guided implementation and development of new clinical programs involving research and cardiovascular services. Mason is a member of American Association of Nurse Practitioners and holds certification as a family nurse practitioner.


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Joy Lippard: Bringing Awareness & Hope Through Music

Joy Lippard Hanna, a worship leader and Northern Virginia native, shared with us recently how she went from discovering human trafficking exists to tangibly helping victims. 

Joy learned about trafficking at the Passion Conference in 2013 when Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission, shared stories about girls sold into sex slavery. 

"I was broken hearted. I felt helpless,” she said. "I was angry too. Angry and disheartened that people could do such a thing to other human beings. I felt a bit confused as well, and couldn’t comprehend why I had never heard about this problem before and how as Christians we could ever turn a blind eye to such violence and oppression.” 

But God doesn’t leave us in the dark. Often the answer, “What now?” is to keep using the talents we already have. 

"I remember sitting in the arena and asking God what He wanted me to do in response to what I had just learned. Believing God has gifted me with a passion and talent for songwriting and singing, I prayed that He would “give me a song” to bring awareness to the issue,” Joy said. 

God did more than that: He gave her a whole album of songs, inspired by a missions strip to Cebu, Philippines, and input from local survivors. 

Joy wrote her first two songs for the album after her trip to Cebu, and sang them at an event she hosted at her church that fall. But it wasn’t the end— she felt God challenging her to do more. 

“In all honesty, I was feeling pretty good about myself and felt I had checked the box 'do something practical about the problem of human trafficking,'but God was prompting my heart to do more,” Joy said. "I had prayed for just one song but I sensed Him saying, 'no, Joy, a full album of songs!' And thus began the project to record an album of songs to raise awareness about trafficking and encourage its victims with the hope and truth of Jesus Christ.” 

The first and most important step in getting involved, Joy said, is prayer. Pray for victims; pray for an end to trafficking; and pray for guidance in how to get involved, whether that means volunteering with a local organization or sending a care package to victims like those Restore Innocence sends through the FBI and Homeland Security. 

If you would like to volunteer with NOVA HTI, please use our contact page to get in touch with us. We would love to help you get involved! 

Joy’s album, Set Free, includes songs of encouragement and freedom, as well as a call to action to the church. It is available on iTunes, and proceeds benefit Lily House in the Dominican Republic. 

Six Steps to Advocating With Credibility: Sex Trafficking Statistics in the USA

Six Steps to Advocating With Credibility: Sex Trafficking Statistics in the USA

Six Steps To Advocating With Credibility:

1.) Try to use statistics backed by multiple non-profits and government sources if you can find them.

2.) Look for the most current research on what you want to share–research and numbers change often. If you have a 2007 number, try to find one from 2010, or better yet, 2015.

3.) Spend five minutes checking Google/Snopes to see if there are any articles questioning the facts you want to use–become familiar with the controversy so you can explain it with more diligence.

4.) Use accurate phrasing to express questionable facts, such as “some sources claim x number while others use x to describe . . .” or “13 is considered by most authorities to be the average age of entry to prostitution, which leads to trafficking–even though this number is debatable.”

5.) Focus on the story. From what I’ve read, potential donors/volunteers usually respond better to faces than numbers, anyway. Also, numbers are hard to use as a designation of worth. Ex. Does your number mean the issue is better or worse? If 200,000 people have a disease, are you pointing out a lot of people have it, or just a few do? Or should I compare a number to the whole global population?

6.) When possible, go out of your way to bring people hope with your imagery. Avoid sensational graphics. Example–as the majority of trafficking victims are not chained, maybe chains aren’t the best graphic to use to highlight the situation.

Ways to Help Pass A Virginia Stand-Alone Sex Trafficking Law

Ways to Help Pass A Virginia Stand-Alone Sex Trafficking Law

A few years back before our organization became NOVA HTI, a few of us were talking with a local top-level judge. He told us we didn't think we needed a stand-alone law declaring human trafficking illegal, because wouldn't kidnapping cover human trafficking? Well, as most victims aren't kidnapped, we told him we didn't think it was sufficient.