Odds are you have treated a trafficking victim in your practice
By JAN EDWARDS, President, Paving the Way Foundation, Inc.
Editor’s note. This is the first in a series that informs on child sex trafficking in the Orlando area and what our readers, those in the healthcare community, can do to disrupt what is happening to its victims.
Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news – Jeffery Epstein. Ghislaine Maxwell. 39 children missing in Georgia…all of it seems so far way.
Well, I’m going to burst your “happiest place on earth” bubble. If you are not fully aware of it, it can have an impact on your business, your staff, your reputation, and most importantly, your patients.
That trend is human trafficking. Specifically: child sex trafficking. Trafficking is a global pandemic. According the International Labor Organization and latest Trafficking in Persons report, there are over 40 million people being sold into a life of slavery.
The sad, almost incomprehensible part of this, according to the TIP Report, 30 percent or close to 7 million children are being exploited every year around the world and the number continues to grow.
They are used as forced labor, domestic servants, or for sexual exploitation. The almost incomprehensible part is that the average age of entry is 12. You know what that means, right? Children as young as 6 years old are suffering a life we cannot even imagine.
As shocking as that may be, here is another surprise, some of those victims may have walked through your door and been treated by you. How can that be? Well, according to a Journal of Family Violence study sample, in which all traffickers involved were family members, nearly 65 percent of the traffickers were the mothers of the victims, and 32 percent were the victim’s father. Almost 60 percent of familial trafficking victims have ongoing contact with their trafficker, making it extremely difficult for children and teens to remove themselves from harmful situations and protect themselves – both physically and psychologically. *
You may be shaking your head thinking, “no way is this happening in our office,” we would have seen and reported it. Here is another truth bomb for you. Florida has the third highest number of calls to the national trafficking hotline, behind California and Texas. According to DCF, Orange County has the second highest number of child trafficking cases in the state. So not only is it possible, it’s probable one of your patients is a possible victim.
You could be a little upset or angry at me for bringing this topic up, and that’s ok. See, the only way we can truly disrupt the cycle of this horrific crime against our children is to become educated about it, learning the signs and, most importantly, be empowered to do something about it.
For a moment, imagine being a young girl or boy – entering your practice, scared, with no voice, feeling helpless. Trapped by the fear of saying anything to anyone and if they do say something, losing the one person that ‘loves’ you. Consider, shy looks different than suppressed. Acting out isn’t always ADHD.
Now, imagine one of your nurses gets a sense that something is off and not wanting to rock the boat, feels unsure and helpless to say anything as well. Unsure of what action to take. Hopeless praying that helpless notices and does something.
You and your team play a crucial role in disrupting the cycle of exploitation.
- 85 percent of trafficking victims reported being in a medical setting for various concerns but did not feel safe enough to ask for help.
- 57 percent of survivors reported never being asked trafficking or abuse assessment questions during any health care visit. **
Frightening? For child, Yes. Upsetting for your staff. Yes
Here’s the good news! We have an opportunity to interrupt this pandemic. There is a solution and it starts with us. I’m inviting you to be an active participant in ending this silent crime.
How do you do that? Read on.
First: Get educated!
Here are some signs to look for:
- Appears disheveled, disoriented
- Signs of fear, anxiety or tension
- Visible ‘ownership’ tattoos
- Signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
- Avoids eye contact
- Resistance to assistance
- No ID or Fake ID
- Signs of being controlled, hesitant to answer health questions
- Cannot speak or will not speak on their own behalf
- Bruises, cuts, burns
- Pain in jaw or abdomen
- Vaginal discharge
- Afraid of their caregiver
Second: Bring compassion to your patients by understanding the mind of a victim.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls and one in six boys in the United States will be sexually abused before turning 18. Yet only 12 percent of child sexual abuse is reported to authorities.
Many victims don’t self-identify or share what’s being done to them. They actually think it’s how life is. It’s ‘normal’ – even though it hurts. They fear what might happen if they tell anyone; they experience feeling embarrassed, guilty and full of shame about what they’ve experienced. Sadly, these young victims falsely believe all of this is their fault.
How traffickers control their victims is by threatening their lives, their safety and including their loved ones. Traffickers, much like abusers,’ train children to avoid sharing their experiences with anyone. Victims are told lies, coerced and manipulated to keep quiet. “If you tell the police, you’ll go to jail.” “You like it, you know it.” “You deserve it. You’re worthless and no one else cares about you.” “If you tell anyone, I’ll do the same thing to your little sister.”
The pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed leaving them even more vulnerable to believe the lies and make rash decisions.
Third: Empower your team to take an action.
Put the National Trafficking Hotline number in your phone and have your team do the same. They can call 24/7, 7 days a week. That number is 888-373-888 or text ‘Help’ to 233733. For minors, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 800-962-2873. That one phone call can end the cycle of abuse and exploitation and assist the family in getting the help they need to begin the healing. As mandatory reporters, it’s our responsibility to assess the unthinkable and gently ask the tough question. “Is anyone hurting you?” Then be prepared to take appropriate actions.
Lastly: Reduce risk.
The most powerful and practical way to reduce risk is to provide training for your team as a priority. It can save lives – which is part of your oath. You can share this article. Post this link on the company’s intranet. Engage in conversations during daily meetings. Volunteer at a local shelter. There are many resources both offline and online to protect your practice and your patients.
Visualize your staff, feeling empowered; they are trained to interact with possible victims. Picture them looking fulfilled when they’ve used their training and knowledge to end the trend and save a child from a life of slavery.
You would be superheroes. Your staff would be proud to be a part of a practice that is a safe place for children and families. You can take pride in standing together, protecting the most vulnerable patients. You have the opportunity to make a massive difference by being aware and taking a new action.
Educate. Empower. Prevent.
There is a solution and it starts with us. Together we can pave the way to a brighter future.
HELP LINES available 24/7 everyday.
888-373-8888 or text ‘Help’ to 233733.
For minors, call the Abuse Hotline, 800-962-2873