Magazine article American Nurse Today

Human Trafficking: Preparing for a Unique Patient Population: Gaining Knowledge about This Crime against Humanity Could Help You Rescue Victims from a Horrific Life

Magazine article American Nurse Today

Human Trafficking: Preparing for a Unique Patient Population: Gaining Knowledge about This Crime against Humanity Could Help You Rescue Victims from a Horrific Life

Article excerpt

IN MOST WAYS, human trafficking (modern slavery) is no different from slavery of ancient times: It's a brutal, highly profitable business with no regard for its victims. As nurses, to grasp the impact we can have on the lives of trafficking victims, we need to understand the nature of the crime, its prevalence, how to recognize victims, and how to help.

Human trafficking falls into two broad categories.

* Labor trafficking typically is either forced hard labor, usually in agriculture or textile sweatshops; or domestic labor, such as working as a nanny or house servant.

Sex trafficking involves forced work in strip clubs, massage parlors, pornography production, or prostitution. It also may involve mail-order brides.

This article focuses on sex trafficking--the most prevalent form of slavery in the United States. An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States annually and 100,000 to 200,000 American minors are exploited in the sex industry. Worldwide, 2 million children and young women are trapped in sex slavery.

Consequences for victims

Human trafficking victims face grave physical and emotional danger every day. Research suggests initial gang rape is a common method of recruitment into slavery. Threats of repeated rape if the victim doesn't comply with demands are common. Some victims rescued from the sex trade report customers who didn't like condoms and paid extra to avoid using them. This puts victims at great risk for sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancy, and physical trauma from rape.

Physical abuse, rampant in the trafficking business, is a primary means of forcing victims to comply. A study of European trafficking victims found about 75% had been kicked, punched in the face, burned with cigarettes, hit with objects, dragged by their hair, or struck in the head. More than half had posttraumatic stress disorder. Also, many victims abuse or become addicted to the drugs or alcohol their traffickers give them (sometimes by force) to control them. What's more, many victims suffer from chronic untreated disease, such as tuberculosis, diabetes, or asthma, as well as infestations, poor dentition, dehydration, and malnutrition.

These facts underscore the immediate and imperative need for healthcare advocacy for victims. Unfortunately, nurses may have limited knowledge about human trafficking and how to identify victims in healthcare settings.

Implications for nurses

In 2014, Katherine Chon, senior advisor on Trafficking in Persons for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testified before Congress that roughly 75% of trafficked women saw a healthcare provider while in captivity. In most cases, this provider was in an emergency department (ED).

However, many victims can be identified in other settings where nurses are present, such as schools, health clinics, acute-care hospital units, dental offices, and jails. This encounter may be a victim's only possible entry point into the social safety net--yet many trafficking victims aren't identified as such in healthcare settings. Once this opportunity is lost, it may never arise again, because traffickers typically don't allow visits to care providers unless a victim's health is so precarious that she or he can't work.

Even victims who seek care may go unrecognized or be mistaken for domestic violence victims, drug addicts, or prostitutes. Failure to identify a trafficking victim in a healthcare facility can lead to tragic consequences or even death for that person. Because nurses are frontline caregivers for this population, they need to know how to identify victims and refer them to appropriate resources.

Recognizing trafficking victims

How can nurses recognize the unique characteristics of trafficking victims? While human trafficking and domestic violence victims share some common presentations, important differences exist. …

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