II. Definition

  1. Human Trafficking
    1. Persons forced or coerced into exploitation (e.g. Forced Labor, Sexual Slavery, Organ Trafficking)

III. Epidemiology

  1. Affects more than 27 Million persons annually worldwide ($10-30 Billion global industry)
  2. U.N. estimates up to 20% of Kidney donors were coerced into organ donation via black market
  3. Affects at least 17,000 Immigrants brought to the United States annually
  4. Affects U.S. residents who are coerced into Forced Labor or Sexual Slavery (87% are <25 years old)
    1. Adult women: 46%
    2. Minor Girls: 21%
    3. Adult Males: 21%
    4. Minor Boys: 12%
    5. Shandro (2016) Ann Emerg Med 68(4): 501-8 [PubMed]

IV. Risk Factors

  1. Highest risk
    1. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
    2. Runaway, Homelessness or living in shelter
      1. From 10-50% report survival sex to obtain food, shelter, drugs or money
  2. Other risk factors
    1. Foster Care children
    2. Juvenile justice system offenders
    3. Disabled patients
    4. American Indian and Alaskan Native
    5. Decreased english proficiency
    6. LGBT patients (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, Transgender)
    7. Poverty
    8. Low education
    9. Substance Abuse or Chemical Dependency
    10. Delayed presentations for Prenatal Care

V. Precautions

  1. Victims of Human Trafficking are most likely to be seen in health care, especially emergency departments
  2. Emergency Departments offer a unique opportunity for identifying and assisting Human Trafficking victims
    1. From 30 to 80% of Human Trafficking victims are seen at medical facilities
  3. Red Flags
    1. Companion (trafficker, may be male or female, and may truly be a close relative)
      1. Speaks on behalf of the patient (may be dominant, controlling)
      2. Does not wish to be separated from the patient
      3. Acts as Interpreter for patient
      4. Completes medical paperwork for the patient
    2. Patient
      1. Does not have identification (often confiscated by traffickers)
      2. History may be vague or inconsistent
      3. Language barriers may be present (use an official Medical Interpreter)
      4. May have multiple sex partners or prior arrests for prostitution
      5. Mental illness and Substance Abuse may be comorbid
        1. Depressed mood
        2. Anxiety Disorder
        3. Low self esteem
      6. Does not know local area, their home address, directions home
        1. May claim they just moved to area or just visiting

VI. History

  1. See HEADSS Screening (for adolescent and young adult history)
  2. Approach (Trauma informed care, with pearls from WHO)
    1. Build rapport with the patient and establish trust
    2. Treat in honest and nonjudgemental manner (empathy, not pity)
    3. Patient may not see themselves as a victim (and may resent the implication)
    4. Help patient feel that they are in a safe environment
    5. Recognize that patients may have coping mechanisms with maladaptive behaviors and difficult encounters
    6. Sit at eye level with patient
    7. Be aware of body language
    8. Avoid interrupting patient
    9. Avoid making un-keepable promises
    10. Avoid playing the role of friend or surrigate parent
    11. Avoid using technical words or derogatory terms (e.g. hooker)
    12. Disclose any mandatory reporting requirements when conducting interview
  3. Interview the patient without companions present (most important single measure)
    1. Obtain an independent, official Medical Interpreter
    2. May separate patient from companion during exam or diagnostics, or while companion completes forms
    3. Start with open ended questions and avoid leading questions
    4. Establish true age of patient (under age 16 or under age 18?)
    5. Crowded living and sleeping conditions?
    6. Adequate nutrition?
    7. Who are companions and do you trust them?
    8. Forced to work or have sex?
  4. Common presentations
    1. Vague presenting complaints
    2. Inconsistent medical history
    3. Recurrent Sexually Transmitted Infections or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
    4. Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections
    5. Unwanted Pregnancy
    6. Dyspareunia
  5. Mental health conditions
    1. Anxiety Disorder
    2. Major Depression
    3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    4. Self Injury
    5. Substance Use Disorder
  6. Other associated conditions
    1. HIV Infection
    2. Hepatitis B
    3. Hepatitis C

VII. Signs

  1. General
    1. See Nonaccidental Trauma for signs of abuse (e.g. ligatures, Bruising, burns, bites, scars)
    2. Signs of injury not consistent with history
    3. Malnourished or dehydrated
    4. Poor Dentition
    5. Growth retardation or Developmental Delay in children
    6. Tattoos that function as a traffickers brand of ownership (may include numbers, letters)
    7. Retained material in vagina such as cotton sponges (used to hide Menses)
    8. Vaginal Trauma
    9. Inappropriate Dress
    10. Signs of drug use, Substance Abuse or Intoxication
  2. Affect and behavior
    1. May be irritable, anxious, aggressive
    2. May have flat affect, detached or make poor eye contact
    3. May fear involving law enforcement
    4. May have self-inflicted injuries (e.g. cutting)

VIII. Management

  1. Stabilize acute medical conditions and address the chief compliant
  2. Patient must give permission to proceed with each step of the evaluation
    1. Evaluation of Child Abuse or Child Sexual Abuse should follow local protocols (including reporting)
  3. Staff chaperone or victim advocate should acompany the patient
  4. Sexual Assault (see SANE Nurse below)
    1. Perform Sexually Transmitted Infection testing (HIV, Hepatitis B, Syphilis)
    2. Offer Emergency Contraception
    3. Offer Post-exposure Prophylaxis (GC, Chlamydia, Trichomonas, HIV PEP, Hepatitis B)
  5. Consultation
    1. National Human Trafficking Hotline (see below)
      1. Clinicians should consider calling for practical advice in suspected trafficking cases
    2. Hospital Security
      1. Notify early regarding concerns for safety of both the patient and staff
    3. Forensic nurses (SANE nurses) Indications (urgent evaluation in Emergency Department)
      1. See Sexual Assault
      2. Acute Sexual Assault within prior 120 hours
      3. Sexually Transmitted Infection symptoms or other medically urgent complaints
      4. Anogenital Trauma or other suspicious injuries requiring forensic documentation
      5. Child with mental health or safety concerns
    4. Medical Interpreter
      1. Allows a detailed, reliable careful history
      2. Avoid translation by companions
    5. Survivor-centered protocols
      1. Social workers
      2. Crisis organizations
      3. Shelters
      4. Law enforcement
      5. Mental health and Chemical Dependency treatment
  6. Legal concerns
    1. Follow mandatory reporting protocols (e.g. Child Abuse)
      1. If not mandated by law, patient has the right to refuse law enforcement and other notification
    2. Undocumented Immigrants may obtain T Visa (trafficking Visa) in some cases
      1. Allows trafficking victims to safely remain in U.S. legally
    3. Several laws protect victims of Human Trafficking
      1. https://polarisproject.org/current-federal-laws
      2. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)
      3. Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA)
      4. Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
      5. Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act
  7. Documentation
    1. Document suspected Human Trafficking and related findings
  8. Follow-up
    1. Often difficult if continues under control of human trafficker
    2. Scheduling follow-up will increase contact and build rapport
    3. Consider hospital admission for serious illness or injury that requires close follow-up
    4. Reevaluate in 2 weeks for pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Infection, injuries

IX. Resources

  1. National Human Trafficking Hotline
    1. https://humantraffickinghotline.org/
    2. Phone: 1-888-373-7888
    3. Text "HELP" to 233733 (BeFree)
    4. Online website also has a chat
  2. Polaris Project
    1. http://www.polarisproject.org
  3. Wikipedia
    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_trafficking
  4. TraffickFree
    1. https://www.traffickfree.com/
  5. U.S. Laws on Human Trafficking (U.S. State Department)
    1. https://www.state.gov/j/tip/laws/

X. References

  1. Jhun, Weinstock and Flores in Herbert (2015) EM:Rap 15(7): 7
  2. Roszcynialski, Irvine and Walter (2018) Crit Dec Emerg Med 32(12): 3-10
  3. Swadron, Weinstock, Downing and Kaiser in Herbert (2015) EM:Rap 15(7): 8-9
  4. Becker (2015) Pediatr Emerg Care 31(2): 144-7 [PubMed]
  5. Patel (2010) West J Emerg Med 11(5): 402-4 [PubMed]
  6. Suniega (2022) Am Fam Physician 105(5): 521-8 [PubMed]

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