Nurses Can Identify and Help Trafficking Victims

Human sex trafficking can be illustrated in one sentence: “I can sell a kilo of cocaine once and I’m out of product, but I can sell a woman over and over 25 times a night 365 days a year and make a quarter of a million dollars off one girl.” That observation a pimp made to Mary de Chesnay, a professor in the WellStar School of Nursing at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University and editor of the book Sex Trafficking: A Clinical Guide for Nurses, sums up why human sex trafficking has become a growth industry.
Nurses are in a prime position to identify possible victims of sex trafficking when they seek medical treatment in the emergency department, free clinics, physician offices and other locations. But too often those opportunities are missed. Victims of sex trafficking have “all kinds of medical and psychological issues,” de Chesnay said. Other signs include not being able to produce identification, having inconsistent stories about their lives and how injuries occurred, hypervigilance, and the presence of tattoos that might be “brands.”A victim might seem submissive, allowing the accompanying person, who might be his or her pimp, to respond to questions.
Nurses should let victims know what to do when they are ready by providing them with information about resources such as the national hotline. If the victim is a child, mandatory reporting laws for abuse apply. In addition, some states require reporting in the cases of victims of domestic violence. Nurses should tell the patient if they are required to file a report. Reporting gives victims access to an advocate who can help with resources.

“Slavery didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation,” de Chesnay said. “Nurses can step up and play a role in ending it for good. The crucial first step is awareness, people need to be educated about human trafficking, learn the warning signs and memorize the hotline number.”

The next step is to work with law enforcement to develop policies for the facility where the nurse works. “Many nurses do not act because they do not know what to do once they become aware,” de Chesnay said. “The protocol must spell out clearly the steps to take if a human trafficking victim walks through the door.”

Learn more at Cynthia Saver’s article: Trading on innocence.


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