By Laura Ungar
August 22, 2013 / courier-journal.com
Dr. Jeff Barrows says there are studies showing that between a quarter and a half of all victims of human trafficking encounter a health professional while being trafficked.
But often, doctors, nurses and other health professionals don’t know much about how to identify victims – or what to do if they suspect someone is in trouble.
So on Friday, the Ohio human trafficking expert will discuss the topic at a University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics Grand Rounds lecture.
“We have the ability to step in to separate the victim and the trafficker,” Barrows said.
To do that, Barrows said, health professionals need to be aware of the problem and prepare by developing a protocol on what to do if they encounter a victim. He said one thing they should do is connect with local law enforcement professionals familiar with the problem ahead of time.
“Ask them: What do you want me to do when I encounter a potential victim?” he said.
Barrows said it’s not always best to intervene, since many traffickers are dangerous people who may hurt not only their victims but others as well. “As health care professionals, we are mandatory reporters, but we are not mandatory interveners,” he said.
But sometimes, a health professional will be called upon to intervene, after consultation with law enforcement. In those cases, Barrows said, if an adult patient gives permission to intervene, the first step is to isolate the person from the trafficker, call law enforcement for protection and contact local services that can provide such things as food and shelter for the victim.
Barrows said victims may be from other countries, or from the United States. Congress has said minors engaged in commercial sex are considered victims of sex trafficking. Experts estimate there are tens of thousands of child trafficking victims alone.
Signs that someone is being trafficked include symptoms of physical and sexual abuse, multiple sexually-transmitted diseases and being accompanied by a very controlling person.