Trafficking Victims: No Health Professional Helped Me
December 3, 2015
by Jonathan Imbody
Excerpted from "Helsinki Commission Briefing on Rescuing Victims of Human Trafficking," press release, December 1, 2015 - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, chaired by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, will hold a briefing Dec. 1 entitled “Best Practices for Rescuing Trafficking Victims.”
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, authored by Chairman Smith, and its reauthorizations have numerous provisions to ensure that foreign victims trafficked into the United States receive at least the same care as refugees, and that they can apply for a T or a U visa if returning to their home country is too dangerous. However, the numbers of foreign victims found in the United States each year is below the estimated thousands. In 2014 approximately 750 foreign victims were identified, up from 520 in 2013, but still far below suspected numbers. We can do better at identifying foreign victims.
Recent research indicates that more than 80 percent of trafficking victims in the United States have contact with the healthcare system in the course of being trafficked. Some are even brought to the clinic by their trafficker. This hearing is the latest installment in the ongoing TVPA oversight series with a focus on best practice development for identifying--and rescuing--foreign trafficking victims in the U.S.
Two foreign-born victims will be sharing insights on what helped them escape, and how doctors could have helped free them sooner.
CMA Vice President for Government Relations Jonathan Imbody: “I listened at the briefing to these two victims of sex trafficking as they related their horrific stories. I heard the tremor in their voices and watched them break down and cry, as they had so many times during their ordeal. I heard them repeat over and over how many times they had been taken to health professionals and how, over and over, no one took a moment to even ask a probing question, much less report them as suspected victims.
“Forced to have sex with johns more than 50 times a day, these victims would be taken to see doctors for vaginal trauma. Their captors told them to explain to their doctors that they simply had been having sex with their boyfriend who was ‘very large.’ And the doctors and nurses simply accepted this story without question, despite the accompanying lacerations and the ever-present men who filled out their paperwork for them. A victim who had been crying day and night was taken by her captor to a doctor who, after one question, simply prescribed anti-depressants and sent her back to her hell.
“One victim spoke about how privacy is stressed in healthcare so much but wondered aloud, ‘What about my privacy?’ Violated dozens of times daily, with no free will, often plagued by Stockholm Syndrome loyalty to their feared captors, HIPAA privacy is one of the farthest concerns from victims’ minds. Moreover, HIPAA provides for reporting of suspected victims in cases of ‘child abuse or neglect;’ ‘adult abuse, neglect or domestic violence’ when ‘based on the exercise of professional judgment, the report is necessary to prevent serious harm to the individual or others;’ and ‘to a law enforcement official reasonably able to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of an individual or the public.’
“Patients who have been threatened and coerced, or who have developed fear-reaction attachments to their captors and pimps, are victims of a crime, and the failure to report the evidence of the crime is allowing the crime to continue and the criminals to continue their rampage of terror against their victims. Reporting a suspected victim of human trafficking is not an invasion of patient privacy; it is a step toward the restoration of their privacy, their sanity and their safety.
“As I discussed with Rep. Chris Smith and other trafficking experts after the briefing, even health professionals who, for whatever reason do not wish to get involved, can help simply by notifying law enforcement so the suspected trafficker can be surveilled upon leaving the hospital or clinic. I also spoke with an official with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (888-373-7888) who stressed the benefits of using the hotline as a first step; hotline staff will know what to do and whom to contact locally.
“Unlike those doctors who out of busyness, lack of caring or fear turned a blind eye to victims of human trafficking in their exam rooms, you can—like the Good Samaritan in the parable—take the time, take the risk and stop to help your neighbor who has been beaten and is lying by the side of the road. To learn how to spot the signs of human trafficking and what to do about it, take the CMDA CME-credit course online.