Most health care providers are aware they have a responsibility to identify and report victims of child abuse, elder neglect, and domestic violence. Another type of abuse—human trafficking—is, however, on the rise in every state throughout the nation. The National Human Trafficking Hotline statistics for 2017 include 8,524 cases reported and 26,557 calls received.
This crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to make an individual perform labor or sexual acts against his or her will. Victims can be any age (adults or minors), any gender, and from any cultural or ethnic group. The trafficker—or abuser—might be a stranger, a family member, or a friend. This criminal industry is very profitable, generating billions of dollars worldwide. Lack of awareness and misconceptions can allow opportunities to identify victims to go unnoticed and unreported.
Although trafficking victims rarely find opportunities to interact with others without approval from the abuser, research shows that an overwhelming majority of victims see a medical or dental professional during captivity. A visit to a physician or dental practice provides a rare opportunity for an individual to receive help.
Human trafficking victims are commonly seen in medical and dental practices with the following conditions:
- Trauma such as broken bones, bruises, scars, burn marks, or missing teeth.
- Poor dental hygiene.
- Gynecological trauma or multiple sexually transmitted infections.
- Anxiety, depression, or insomnia.
Victims are usually afraid to seek help for reasons that stem from fear, shame, or language barriers. Medical and dental providers and their staff should be trained to recognize the signs of human trafficking and know what steps to take.
Below are examples of red flags exhibited by human trafficking victims:
- Depression or flat affect.
- Submissive to his or her partner or relative.
- Poor physical health.
- Suspicious tattoos or branding.
- Lack of control over personal identification or finances.
- Not allowed to speak for himself or herself.
- Reluctance or inability to verify address or contact information.