January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a time to educate yourself on the warning signs of human trafficking.
Human trafficking does not discriminate. It can affect people of any gender, age, race, ethnicity or nationality. It can impact people living in poverty and those in financially secure situations.
Human traffickers deprive victims of their freedom and dignity. But because human trafficking often occurs in silence, it has become a real-world issue.
Megan Pond, MSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P, is an RN 4 and clinical care lead at Bon Secours Richmond Forensic Nursing Services.
“We see all patients, not just human traffic, so generally we see victims of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse and strangulation,” she shares. “All of these can be components of a human trafficking patient, too. We provide individualized, one-on-one time and trauma-informed care for the patient. We are uninterrupted and don’t have to worry about getting pulled away from a patient, as our time is devoted to each patient we see.”
While our ministry has recently seen a decline of trafficking victims in the last several months, our forensic nurses share that abuse cases we do see have been more severe. This could be due to law enforcement being more proactive in their operations or victims having restricted access to health care.
“Warning signs of human trafficking can be age-specific, but our staff looks for a patient that is unable to speak for themselves or has someone in the room with them that is not allowing them to speak,” Megan reveals. “They may not have any personal identification, whether that be their driver’s license, passport or any information about themselves. Usually, if they aren’t sure where they are, have reported traveling a lot or coming from another area, foreign or domestic, that’s a red flag.”
Megan continues that, “if the patient looks malnourished or does not having the capability of nourishing themselves, as well as multiple physical injuries that they can’t really explain or are vague about, usually their explanations can be a warning sign. Or if they don’t make eye contact while speaking.”
Megan notes that many cases look like domestic violence or vice versa, and that domestic violence relationships can lead people down a path of human trafficking.
“It’s case by case. Sometimes they are connected and sometimes not. We really must be aware of the signs and trust our gut feeling if something doesn’t feel right or is concerning us. Our main intention is letting the patients know that we are here for them and care about their safety,” she shares.
Some other human trafficking warning signs you can look out for in your community include:
- A person appearing malnourished
- A person showing signs of physical injuries and abuse
- An individual who avoids eye contact, social interaction and authority figures/law enforcement
- When someone seems to be adhering to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction
- Lacking official identification documents when asked for them
- Someone appearing destitute/lacking personal possessions
- An individual working excessively long hours
- Living at place of employment
- Checking into hotels with older males
- Constant presence of an older “boyfriend” or older peer
- Poor physical health, hygiene and dental health
- Bruises, cigarette burns or tattoos, specifically on the neck or lower back
- Untreated sexually transmitted diseases
- Small children serving in a family restaurant
- Security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment, such as barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows
- Not allowing people to go into public alone, or speak for themselves
“In the community, if there is concern that someone you encounter is the victim of trafficking, we recommend you either call your local law enforcement agency or the human trafficking hotline so that they can assist,” Megan advises. “If it is someone you are close to, we recommend talking to them and offering assistance but making sure not to put yourself in an unsafe situation.”
Our forensic nurses emphasize to others that if they “see something to say something” when it comes to human trafficking.
There are also organizations, such as Safe Harbor, that our ministry collaborates with for patients who have experienced trafficking. If there is concern, the hospital may contact the on-call person advocate at the shelter to help provide resources and shelter to a victim.
If you believe that someone you know is or has been human trafficked, alert the proper authorities or call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-(888)-373-7888.
Learn more about our human trafficking awareness efforts at Bon Secours.