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Doctors Can Spot the Signs of Human Trafficking

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Resources and refuge for human trafficking victims remain scarce in the US Healthcare facilities serve as one of the few sources of help for victims. In a $150 b per year industry, sex and labor trafficking rings ensure the commoditization of people remains under wraps from authorities, save routine health procedures.  

A 2017 study discovered that while 50 percent of trafficking victims had access to healthcare, 97 percent reported they remained ignorant of specific resources available to their situation. With little to no known resources, these trafficking victims remain trapped in exploitative prostitution rings. Moreover, healthcare providers often neglect to identify the signs associated with victims of sex or labor trafficking, leaving victims subject to the illegal system’s abuse with no alternative or escape.

However, healthcare system Dignity Health is working to reform public health facilities for the benefit of these underserved individuals by launching a joint program with the Dignity Health Foundation known as Human Trafficking Response (HTR). As the fifth largest healthcare system in the US, made up of over 60,0000 caregivers and an established multi-state (21 to date) health provider, Dignity Health is using its expansive network to provide human trafficking victims the attention and aid they need.

Led by Holly Austin Gibbs, a sex work survivor and expert, Dignity Health’s HTR program works with social service providers, law enforcers, human trafficking task forces, and legislators to inform and educate the public on human trafficking as a public health issue and to raise awareness among the currently exploited. Recently, HTR released a public domain online manual complete with a detailed guide to HTR’s program and other response plans and programs that support victims of human trafficking. From safe houses to human trafficking hotlines and law enforcement intervention, the public now has easy access to these important resources in combatting this exploitative industry.

“Too often trafficked persons are isolated and stigmatized by society,” said Gibbs in a promotional video for the program’s services. “Each time a trafficked person visits a Dignity Health facility, we have an opportunity to provide an experience where he or she feels included, accepted and respected, as well as to educate this person about personal rights and community resources. The essence of victim-centered care is that hopefully, over time, this person will accept or seek assistance.”

The program has been successfully implemented in almost 40 Dignity Health hospitals. With Gibbs opening up to healthcare providers about her own experiences as a victim of the industry, staff members readily underwent a series of Human Trafficking 101 educational courses.

Thanks to Gibbs’s guidance, misconceptions surrounding the realities of the human trafficking industry are being replaced with helpful tips on recognizing and aiding victims. Now these nurses, social workers, physicians, and other healthcare providers are alert and spotting trafficking victims during routine procedures, and in turn providing victims with the support and information they need to escape their traffickers and the institution altogether.

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