Healthcare professionals are in a unique position to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking. Nearly 88 percent of them seek medical treatment during captivity, and of those, 68 percent of them are seen in the emergency department (ED). Unfortunately, many victims slip through the cracks and remain “hidden.”
A study released on Monday, in the Emergency Nurses Association’s Journal of Emergency Nursing, aims to help emergency nurses better identify victims of human trafficking. The study details an evidence-based project that shines a spotlight on the importance of formal education, screening, and treatment protocols for emergency department personnel to guide identification and rescue victims of human trafficking.
“Interestingly, we found that not only were formal education and treatment methods effective strategies to improve recognition and save human trafficking victims, but they also increased the identification of other forms of abuse such as domestic violence and sexual assault,” said study author Amber Egyud, DNP, RN, Chief Nursing Officer, Vice President of Patient Care Services at Forbes Hospital, Allegheny Health Network.
A multidisciplinary team implemented the project at a level two trauma center in a southwestern Pennsylvania community hospital ED where no human trafficking victims had ever been identified before. The team taught ED staff a two-pronged identification approach: medical red flags created by a risk assessment tool embedded into the electronic health record and a silent notification process. They also advised on the proper protocol to ensure the successful rescue and safety of the victims.
With the use of the screening tools, the healthcare team that completed the education and training identified 38 potential victims during a five-month period, and approximately 20 percent of them accepted rescue from their abusive living situation. Victims may decline intervention for a variety of reasons, including fear for personal safety, inability to support themselves or emotional ties to the abuser. These victims often engage in multiple encounters with healthcare providers before accepting help. As a result of this project, the healthcare team identified and rescued one victim of trafficking. In addition, 75 percent of the participating ED personnel reported that the education improved their competence level in recognizing victims of human trafficking.
“Recognizing the signs and not just treating the symptoms is critical for interrupting the cycle of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking victims. Many of our victims do not self identify and so this type of training can save lives. After trainings we have done with ER facilities and pregnancy clinics we have had increased reporting and referrals to law enforcement,” stated Kathleen Winn, Executive Director of AZMen, a group dedicated to male voices and action in support of women and children in Arizona.
“Emergency nurses are often the first healthcare professional involved in the care of a trafficking victim and are the vital link between recognition and rescue of the patient,” said ENA President Karen K. Wiley, MSN, RN, CEN. “We have an opportunity to save lives in a whole new way, but it requires proactive measures aimed at educational awareness and training. This is why we will have multiple educational sessions on human trafficking at our Emergency Nursing 2017 conference.”