Introduction

Studies show approximately 30% to 87.8% of trafficked victims saw a health care professional during their exploitation. In times of disasters where there is more vulnerability to be trafficked, there were approximately 50% of victims who saw a health care provider. However, there is no formal plan for what actions healthcare providers should take to identify victims and connect them to services. While healthcare providers are not obligated to address social issues, they play a crucial role in helping victims of human trafficking. Therefore, states should adopt standard procedures to address the role healthcare providers have in preventing human trafficking.

Human Trafficking

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking is defined as “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” Globally, an estimate of 24.9 million people are trafficked with about 23,000 survivors in the U.S. It is expected that cases will increase with the COVID-19 pandemic because people are more vulnerable due to unemployment and isolation. With this issue impacting millions of people, it is everyone’s responsibility to play a role in fighting against it.

Obligations Of Healthcare Providers

People may argue that healthcare providers should focus on their jobs and have social workers or law enforcement to identify possible victims. However, studies have shown that victims “are more likely to talk to medical staff than police.” Furthermore, perpetrators usually would not let victims seek out social services. Therefore, healthcare services are usually the first ones in contact with victims of human trafficking. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are fewer services available, but hospitals are still running. There is now more responsibility for health professionals to identify and connect victims to services.

Recommendations For Healthcare Systems

Victims are usually isolated from services that can help them, but there is a large percentage who can seek out healthcare. Training for healthcare professionals does not usually include how to identify victims, but health providers should not only be responsible for physical health, but social factors too. Therefore, it is crucial that healthcare providers know how to identify victims and the steps they can take to ensure the victim’s safety. Congress had passed legislation in 2018, sponsoring trafficking-related education for healthcare workers, which emphasizes the role healthcare providers play in anti-trafficking initiatives. Healthcare professionals are taught the SOAR protocol: Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond to trafficking. Through the training, they learn about services they can direct victims to. With this legislation, it is important to ensure healthcare providers are getting this crucial training to fight against human trafficking.

Conclusion

There are currently no formal procedures written for health care providers in response to human trafficking. With COVID-19, there is an increase in vulnerability, but fewer services available. The responsibility of preventing and protecting victims increases for healthcare providers. Therefore, there should be mandatory training for all health care providers and standard procedures in response to human trafficking.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and/or student and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of United 4 Social Change Inc., its board members, or officers.
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