Safety

Joint Commission issues guidance to healthcare professionals on identifying human trafficking victims

Hospital Safety Insider, July 5, 2018

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The Joint Commission (TJC) in a recent Quick Safety newsletter focused on providing tips for healthcare workers to identify human trafficking victims. From 2007-2017, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) received more than 40,000 reports of human trafficking cases in the U.S.

The newsletter lists the following signs of human trafficking that healthcare professionals should watch for:

  • Poor mental health or abnormal behavior, including appearing fearful, depressed, submissive, nervous, or paranoid; avoiding eye contact; lack of cooperation; or refusing treatment
  • Poor physical health, including appearing malnourished; signs of repeated exposure to harmful chemicals; or signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Not in control of identification
  • Not allowed or able to speak for themselves
  • Claims to be just visiting
  • Unable to clarify address or where they’re staying
  • Unsure of whereabouts
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Inconsistent story

When human trafficking cases are identified, a victim-centered response is recommended, according to TJC. Victims may not be ready to seek assistance, and an adult victim can’t be forced to report human trafficking. But if the victim is under 18 years old, the provider has a legal obligation to contact Child Protective Services.

If a healthcare worker suspects human trafficking, he or she should remain nonjudgmental, observe the patient’s body language and communication style and do the same for those who accompany the patient. The healthcare professional should try to interview and/or examine the patient privately at some point during the visit, and should use plain language and simple screening questions. An interpreter should be used if necessary.

If a patient says they have been trafficked, the healthcare professional should, in situations of immediate, life-threatening danger, contact law enforcement according to your institution’s policies. Provide the patient with the NHTRC hotline number (888-373-7888). The patient should be provided with options for services, reporting, and resources, and safety planning should be included in the discharge planning process.

For patients who are minors, mandatory state reporting laws and the institution’s policies for child abuse should be followed. The patient’s injuries and treatment should be accurately documented. Permission and consent should be granted by adult patients who have been trafficked before any personal information is disclosed to others. Use social workers to help get support and resources for the patient.



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