Back to the Blog

Like It? Share It


Subscribe to the Blog:

Human Trafficking Intervention in Healthcare

Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing illicit industries in the world. It is a pervasive crime committed in all zip codes, which is why it is vital to be aware of signs and strategies to help survivors. In a previous blog post, we covered how to recognize the signs a patient may be a victim of trafficking. Now, we turn our attention to intervention strategies.

Intervention strategies

Human trafficking intervention requires robust resources and thoughtful training. Most often, human trafficked victims are seen in acute care settings or cosmetic settings, such as dental offices. However, trafficking occurs everywhere and any clinical or non-clinical staff may encounter survivors.

Create a safe and non-judgmental space

Creating an environment to notice is essential. To do this, clinical and non-clinical staff must foster safe, non-judgmental and observant teams. We must help victims feel supported and empowered.

Invite victims to talk and ask them questions about their lives and livelihoods. Speaking with survivors alone is often difficult, as they may have handlers or traffickers with them. However, this is vital. Ordering testing and laboratory studies are common intervention strategies to help remove the handlers – or even cell phones – from the situation. This allows clinical staff to speak privately with survivors.

Educate your teams

Education is incumbent on leaders and individuals to intervene in trafficking. Continuing medical education can help provide resources and information on human trafficking. Survivors’ stories are also important sources. Everyone from front office staff, security and more, should receive training. Education must happen on all levels of a team.

Furthermore, all staff should be aware of mandatory reporting laws. Every state has mandatory reporting laws for minors. Staff must notify law enforcement of illegal trafficking of minors when discovered. More information on these laws can be found on state government websites and the federal Children’s Bureau, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

See something. Say something. Do something.”

Tonya Stafford, founder of It’s Going to Be Okay

Develop a discreet plan

Protecting the safety of victims, patients and staff is the foremost concern. This means teams should have a way to alert the proper contacts and enact their intervention plan without escalating into a negative situation, such as violence, with patients, handlers or traffickers. Avoiding confrontations, particularly with handlers, is key to ensure the safety of teams and survivors. Teams should include non-escalation tactics in future safety planning.

Furthermore, clinical discretion is likewise vital. Survivors’ medical charts must be documented accurately. Yet, it is also vital to know that traffickers may read victims’ medical records. Follow-up appointments and invitations for further healthcare interactions are discreet ways to attempt further intervention.

Connect survivors with resources

Once human trafficking is recognized, it is important to connect survivors with resources. Facilities can include hotlines or other information in restrooms or other discreet locations. When possible, give both verbal and written guidance. Survivors may not be ready to act, but it is vital we connect them with the opportunity and reaffirm our facilities as safe spaces.

Facilities should have a robust list of local, regional and national resources easily accessible by all staff members. Local resources may include case management, translation law enforcement, and community advocacy groups. National resources include:

Ensure everything is on the survivor’s terms

Human traffickers steal survivors’ autonomy – bodily and otherwise. Any intervention actions should be on the survivors’ terms. Not everyone will be ready for intervention, and they do not need more control taken from them. We must fight the tendency to fix the problem immediately and instead let survivors guide conversations and actions. This is a vital component of trauma-informed care.

It’s really important that we find ways to give patients their power back.”

Khadeja Haye, MD, National Medical Director, TeamHealth Acute and OB/GYN Hospitalist Services

Prioritize trauma-informed care

Trauma-informed care should be the foundation of any intervention plan. The CDC and SAMHSA’s Trauma-Informed Care Center state six guiding principles for trauma-informed care: Safety, trustworthiness and transparency; peer support collaboration and mutuality; empowerment and choice; and cultural, historical and gender issues.

These principles guide clinicians to provide sensitive and human-centered care. For example, some survivors may be particularly sensitive to certain medical assessments, such as pelvic exams. Clinicians should be cognizant conscious of potential triggers. This care approach is critical to address survivors’ physical pain and the unseen trauma they carry.

Trauma-informed care is creating an environment of safety and empowerment – of healing. It’s recognizing triggers.”

John Matheson, MD, Facility Medical Director, TeamHealth Emergency Medicine, Kadlec Medical Center in Richland, Washington

Intervention Saves Lives

The tips above can help clinical staff build a protocol to assist human trafficking victims. Healthcare facilities must maintain ongoing education and a trauma-informed approach to intervene in human trafficking. Intervention saves lives – equip yourselves and your teams with the knowledge and resources to see, say and do something. For further detailed, evidence-based protocol assistance, please visit Heal Trafficking.

If you or someone you know is a victim of trafficking, reach the Human Trafficking Hotline, a 24/7 confidential resource, by calling 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or by texting 233733.

Watch TeamHealth’s full webinar on human trafficking.