Human Trafficking – Modern Day Slavery

By Karen Wilkinson, RN, NHA, CLNC – CareerSmart Learning Contributor


It’s a sad story with many faces.  It’s also a public-health crisis that affects people world-wide, as well as right around us.   Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery.  It’s also a violent crime.  Vulnerable victims fall prey to a human trafficker’s deception through the use of force, fraud or coercion and become entangled in a nightmare that seems to never end.

Human trafficking can take on many forms, but labor trafficking and sex trafficking are most common in the United States.

A victim of labor trafficking is enslaved in debt bondage, forced labor, or forced child labor.  The victim may be trying to pay back a loan, be under the threat of punishment or violence, or forced to work against their will.  This occurs in many industries, such as agriculture and sweatshops, but also in janitorial, food processing, and even healthcare services. 

With sex trafficking, a victim is compelled to participate in a commercial sex act.  Many traffickers entice a marginalized person, such as a runaway teen or single mom, by initially showing kindness and providing emotional and financial support.  The victim may interpret the trafficker’s actions as love, but in reality it is manipulation and coercion that leads to absolute control.  The unfortunate end result involves the victim’s enslavement in street prostitution, internet or brothel-based prostitution, pornography, or “sexualized” jobs such as exotic dancers or strippers, hostesses, massage parlor workers and companions. When a child under the age of 18 is compelled to perform a commercial sex act, it is always a crime.  Proving the use of force, fraud or coercion is not necessary.

Healthcare professionals are in a unique position to identify victims of human trafficking and help get them connected to appropriate services.  But identification is not always easy, and victims do not always disclose their situations when asked.  The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) notes that 87.8% of the trafficking survivors in one study reported they were seen by healthcare providers during their enslavement.   

So how do you know if someone is a victim?  General indicators may include signs that a person lacks control over their own situation, such as having their movements or conversations monitored by a third party, deferring decisions to a third party, or giving conflicting information; or they may not have any money or identification documents.  They may be dressed inappropriately for the weather, or be unable to give a home address or even know the name of the city they are in.  There may be signs of compromised physical and/or mental health, or indications that the person is working unusually long or odd hours without work breaks, or compensation for their labor.  Additional physical, mental, and social/developmental indicators may be present as well.  For example, physical or neurological injures, high blood pressure, respiratory or gastrointestinal distress, self-harming behaviors, nightmares, flashbacks, feeling of  shame or guilt, high risk behaviors, or impaired social skills have been identified by the NHTRC.  You may retrieve the pdf offered by NHTRC for healthcare professional to know what to look for during medical examinations here:   https://humantraffickinghotline.org/sites/default/files/What%20to%20Look%20for%20during%20a%20Medical%20Exam%20-%20FINAL%20-%202-16-16.pdf

If human trafficking is suspected or disclosed, follow your facility protocols.  It is important to assess for potential danger and protect the victim and staff.  Local law enforcement may need to be involved.  If the victim is willing, contact the NHTRC Hotline together at 1-888-373-7888 (24/7), or on their website:   www.traffickingresourcecenter.org.   The Hotline, a free resource, will help the victim to determine next steps.   Always provide any suspected victim with the Hotline information.  You can make a difference. 

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National Human Trafficking Hotline. (2017). Recognizing the Signs.  Retrieved December 15, 2017 from https://humantraffickinghotline.org/what-human-trafficking/recognizing-signs

January 12, 2018

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