Quality & Patient Safety

Diagnosing human trafficking when a patient is a victim

Patient Safety Monitor, August 9, 2017

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Diagnosing human trafficking when a patient is a victim

Only 13% of trafficking victims are recognized as such by their providers

Physicians, nurses, and healthcare staff are in a unique position to help the human trafficking victims who walk through their doors. But for that to work, providers first need to know how to identify them.

There’s an estimated 1 million human trafficking victims living in America—a population roughly the size of Delaware. And statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the Polaris BeFree Textline show that reported cases of human trafficking increased 35% in 2016.

But the statistic most relevant to healthcare providers is this one: 87% of trafficking victims visit a provider at least once during their captivity and aren’t recognized as victims. These patients tend to live short, harsh lives, and less than 1% of them are rescued each year.

To change those numbers, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) is launching a new national initiative on human trafficking and healthcare. The initiative will include tools for human trafficking awareness and prevention in healthcare, as well as the formation of the Alliance for Care Coordination of Children in Human Trafficking.

NAPNAP will be reaching out to stakeholders in the coming months to work with the Alliance on ensuring continuity of best practices in identification, treatment, and referral protocols. They’re seeking to unite professionals from healthcare, mental health, social service, law enforcement, and legal industries to coordinate public education, best practices, and resources. One of NAPNAP’s resources, online continuing education modules for all pediatric healthcare providers, will go live in August on PedsCESM.

Jessica Peck, DNP, RN, MSN, CPNP-PC, CNE, CNL, an associate professor of nursing at Texas A&M University College of Nursing in Corpus Christi and a former NAPNAP board member, says the problem of human trafficking is widespread.

“Trafficking occurs in every community, in every clinical setting,” she says. “All healthcare providers should be aware of signs of potential human trafficking.”

Human trafficking in the U.S.
Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the U.S. and is extremely lucrative. A trafficker can earn up to $300,000 per victim, and the American trafficking industry is worth an estimated $32 billion each year. By comparison, the annual revenue of Starbucks is only $19 billion.

The main barrier to identifying victims, says Peck, is the lack of awareness. However, efforts are underway to change that.
“Currently, there are many entities working to create standardized [human trafficking] screening tools for emergency departments,” she says. “It should be just as standard as screening for advanced directives and domestic violence.”

Since the average life expectancy of a trafficking victim is only seven years, rescuing them quickly is critical. And while some victims are rescued, says Peck, it’s not nearly enough. 

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Patient Safety Monitor.

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