Health Care Workers Conference Raises Human Trafficking Awareness

Nurses and others in the audience sat up straight as they listened to statistics involving women and children in Kansas City.

“I wanted to know more about it,” said Yvonne Ntube, nursing student at Kansas City Kansas Community College. “I knew it was something this big. I didn’t know how bad it is.”

Experts cited warning signs while assessing teenage girls. Her “boyfriend” is noticeably older. She refers to sexual situations that are not age appropriate or shows signs of drug addiction, malnourishment and sleep deprivation. Her body may be branded.

“That was the key point,” Ntube said. “Try to look for it. You never know whose life you will be saving.”

The Mother & Child Health Coalition (MCHC) chose to focus on human trafficking because its Adolescent Health Committee of social workers and nurses saw a trend in human trafficking among adolescents. “They are seeing more and more of this in their area of work,” she said. “It’s on the rise.” MCHC is a bi-state, nonprofit organization of medical workers, social services, public health providers and lay people promoting wellness in children. Nurses are on the front line of health care and can pick up on cues with their patients.

Victims are forced into slavery through kidnapping, forced pregnancies and abortions and use of physical restraints, Dorthy Stucky Halley, victim services director at the Office of Kansas Attorney General said. They are lured into the country through promises of immigration and travel documents, contracts to do legitimate work and promised salaries that never materialize. Victims are trafficked through Internet sites such as Facebook, backpage.com, craigslist, myRedBook and myspace and in truck stops, streets, motels, adult video stores, drug houses, families and street gangs. The average age of entry is 12 to 14 years old and the majority of victims are runaway’s and/or youths within the foster care system and child protective services. Between 70 and 90 percent of sexually exploited children have a history of child sexual abuse. Most of the victims are hidden in plain sight. “It’s a dangerous business,” Halley said. “Thirty-four is the average age of death. It is hard to find them. We can’t find what we have yet to train our mind to see.”

Warning flags include a reluctance to speak in front of an accompanying “caregiver or guardian,” patients who are not allowed to speak for themselves and patients with an unusually high number of sexual partners and sexually transmitted infections. Other signals include patients with a history of frequent abortions, patients who seem fearful and patients who make statements about being made to have sex with different people or receiving payment for sex. Look for unusual scars, ligature marks and assess the entire patient from head to toe. With suspected victims, conduct the assessment privately and call for law enforcement if needed.

Veronica’s Voice, founded and directed by Kristy Childs, advocates for American victims of commercial sex exploitation through education, support and social changes. Childs, a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation, has helped many poor and homeless women in Kansas City transition from “the life,” but she is far from satisfied. She wants to see harsher penalties for male buyers and more assistance from government agencies to help victims of prostitution of all ages. “We’re still in a major battle,” Childs said. “We still aren’t where we need to be with laws and service that we need to provide for victims.”

Learn more at Linda Friedel’s The Kansas City Nursing News article: Conference raises awareness of modern day slavery.

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