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How the Healthcare System Can Better Recognize and Accommodate Trafficking Survivors

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

By Cadence Brown

Edited by Viana Safa

The healthcare provider is crucial in the identification of human trafficking victims. Oftentimes, healthcare workers may be the only professionals that come into contact with trafficking victims. Recent studies have shown that 28% to 50% of people in captivity will receive healthcare but are not identified or recognized (Educating Health Care Professionals on Human Trafficking). In addition to identification, healthcare providers are necessary to treat human trafficking victims’ medical conditions but also assist with the next steps of post-trafficking rehabilitation.

To identify survivors, it is imperative that healthcare providers have received proper education on recognizing the signs of human trafficking, understand how to interview suspected patients who have been trafficked, and carry out the appropriate responses once they are identified. One study in the San Francisco Bay Area Emergency Departments determined whether or not an educational presentation increased emergency department providers’ recognition and knowledge of resources for trafficked patients. They found that the healthcare providers’ understanding of the right people to call when suspecting human trafficking increased from 7.2% to 59%. They also observed that the recognition of trafficked patients increased from 17% to 38% (Educating Health Care Professionals on Human Trafficking). Another study in 2 suburban hospitals found that 89% of the participants had not received training on human trafficking. The comprehensive understanding of trafficking went from under half of the participants to 93% after the intervention (Educating Emergency Department Staff). These types of trainings and education are beneficial for having a more comprehensive understanding of human trafficking identification and resources available to people who have been trafficked.

Additionally, disaster situations cause children and adults to be more vulnerable to human trafficking. This is because disaster situations bring chaos and obstruct systems that should be in place to protect people. Human traffickers use these disaster situations to exploit people through their vulnerability while the victims adapt to the circumstances that make them more at risk for trafficking. Healthcare and emergency care providers are likely to care for people during or after a disaster/emergency situation. Healthcare providers desperately need adequate recognition education so they can use this chance to intervene in the trafficked patients’ lives. One of the first things to consider is that anyone can be trafficked. The healthcare system also needs to acknowledge the different types of trafficking such as labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Some signs of labor trafficking are working for basic necessities instead of money, employers holding documentation papers, and being unable to freely choose where to live. A sign of sex trafficking in relation to healthcare is unexplainable injuries. There are also a couple of things that disaster/emergency responders can do to prevent human trafficking. It is important to know where the at-risk communities are and to make a relationship with the community leaders to create an existing connection if there were to be a disaster. Another beneficial action for the system as a whole is to include education in trafficking for training first responders. The healthcare system, especially first responders in disaster situations, is in a position to greatly impact the identification and prevention of human trafficking (The Role of Healthcare Providers in Combating Human Trafficking during Disasters).

In essence, there are several key considerations and necessities to identifying, treating, and planning healthcare for human trafficking survivors and victims. When identifying, the patient may be reluctant to give out personal information, so it may make interviewing difficult. A couple steps to make the visit more successful is to try to get the suspected patient alone (many times they have someone with them), getting the proper interpreter services, and creating rapport with the patient. The person who is being trafficked may not identify themselves as a trafficking victim, so it is necessary for the healthcare provider to notice subtle and nonverbal communication cues. When deciding on the treatment of the person who has been trafficked, the provider should know the trafficking victim will likely need an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals to accommodate the physical and emotional needs they may have. That being said, the provider should still treat any immediate condition they are presented with. To make a plan regarding the next steps of improving the patient’s situation, they must remember that they cannot force the victim to report the crime, as it may bring harm to the individual from the perpetrators. A resource to help both the healthcare providers and trafficking victims is the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. They are a referral line that can connect you to local resources and assist in making a safety plan for the victim that fits their specific needs. This referral line will help the victim get to a safe location. Healthcare providers should be sufficiently trained on these components so they are comfortable using these tools in their regular practice. (Human Trafficking: The Role of the Health Care Provider).

Works Cited

D. Donahue, S. Schwien, & M. LaVallee. “Educating Emergency Department Staff on the Identification and Treatment of Human Trafficking Victims.” Journal of Emergency Nursing, U.S. National Library of Medicine,

Dovydaitis, Tiffany. “Human Trafficking: the Role of the Health Care Provider.” Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010,

Grace AM;Lippert S;Collins K;Pineda N;Tolani A;Walker R;Jeong M;Trounce MB;Graham-Lamberts C;Bersamin M;Martinez J;Dotzler J;Vanek J;Storfer-Isser A;Chamberlain LJ;Horwitz SM; “Educating Health Care Professionals on Human Trafficking.” Pediatric Emergency Care, U.S. National Library of Medicine,

“Human Trafficking: What Disaster Responders Need to Know.” Public Health Emergency , US Department of Health and Human Services,

“Preventing Human Trafficking.” Public Health Emergency, US Department of Health and Human Services,

“The Role of Healthcare Providers in Combating Human Trafficking during Disasters.”,

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