Health Care’s Awareness of Human Trafficking

Dr. Kanani Titchen still remembers the young woman and the graphic images imprinted on her skin around her groin. The woman was sedated in the operating room, just before undergoing a medical procedure. Titchen was a medical student. The message was clear. This woman’s body was available – for a price.

At the time, the health professionals with Titchen didn’t have much to say about the tattoo or what might prompt someone to make that kind of statement with her body. Now a pediatrics resident with Jefferson/Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Titchen recognizes something other than regrettable decision-making could have led to that woman’s derogatory tattoo. She may have been a victim of domestic sex trafficking, and the tattoo may have been forced on her by a pimp looking to leave his mark on what he considered his property.

Most pediatricians aren’t aware of the signs of childhood sexual exploitation or what to do if they suspect it. Titchen recently received a $25,000 honorarium in a national contest looking to highlight the inspiring residents who have found the right fit in medicine. Titchen was chosen from more than 200 resident doctors nominated for the contest, sponsored by Medelita, a company that designs performance lab coats and scrubs.

It may seem like these victims hide in the shadows of society, but they are more visible than people realize, Titchen said. Young victims may frequent free or low-cost health clinics to get medical care. Health professionals, unaware of the subtle cues that may suggest a patient is a victim – such as specific tattoos, extensive bruising and not making eye contact with others – may mistake their brusque manner as an extreme form of teenage rebellion.

But there’s an opportunity to connect patients with resources to help them escape these pimps and abusers, who rely on insecurity, fear, drugs and violence to keep their victims from getting away. Titchen is working on a video series aimed at educating health care professionals about signs of domestic trafficking as well as resources to help these especially vulnerable patients.

Learn more at Kelly Bothum’s Delaware Online article: Spreading awareness about sex trafficking.

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