Training to identify sex trafficking victims, health care works on front line to protect kids

A sex trafficking victim waits for customers.
A sex trafficking victim waits for customers. | REUTERS/CLARO CORTES

WASHINGTON — Before President Trump signed an executive order to combat human trafficking and online child exploitation Friday, leading medical providers came together to discuss how they're training healthcare professionals to recognize the signs of trafficking victims. 

At an event hosted by the Global Strategic Operatives for the Eradication of Human Trafficking in collaboration with The Selah Way Foundation, anti-trafficking advocates announced an they've initiative launched in conjunction with U.S. Homeland Security to help victims get to safety.

GSO co-founder Deb O’Hara-Rusckowski said in remarks Thursday that while exact numbers are difficult to obtain, a 2014 study of survivors of the commercial sex trade indicates that approximately 88 percent of victims seek medical care while being trafficked.

Thus, O’Hara-Rusckowski said, "healthcare has a great opportunity to identify and provide these victims with a path to freedom."

She went on to explain how GSO has, since the fall of 2019, begun training front-line healthcare providers to identify trafficking and take appropriate action in several large healthcare systems in the U.S. Thus far, 1,368 people have been trained across four such systems. The organization plans to soon submit a proposal to the World Health Organization for the purpose of creating a universal policy on human trafficking for healthcare providers worldwide, a policy that does not presently exist.

Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good, co-founder and CEO of Selah Freedom & Selah Way Foundation and the author of the recently released book, Groomed: Overcoming the Messages That Shaped Our Past and Limit Our Future, mentioned in her comments that it's essential that, as a culture, the deep dark secrets that many have preferred to keep hidden are spoken of so children can get past theirs.

An 11-year-old girl who ran away from home that her organization served once told her, "Whatever is on the streets has to be better than what happens in my bedroom every night with my dad and my brothers."

"And so in their mind, they think out there is freedom. And the stats tell us that within 48 hours 80 percent of them will be approached by a predator," Fisher Good explained.

With the proliferation of smart phones and digital technology, one of every nine children will at some point be approached by a predator through social media, she said. When the 11-year-old girl first hit the streets the first guy who came up to her was, according to her, "probably in his 50s," Fisher Good recounted. 

He told her, "I'll give you ten bucks to have sex with me."

"And in her 11-year-old brain, she thought, 'Great, it's not my dad. This is awesome. I can buy McDonald's,'" she said.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chronicled some of the recent legislative history on trafficking in addition to other recent developments. The president just signed Smith's fifth bill into law, the Frederick Douglas Trafficking Victim's Prevent and Protection Act, he noted.

Healthcare systems participating in the collaborative effort include: Advocate Aurora Health, Baptist Health, Common Spirit Health, Hackensack Meridian Health, Harris Health System/Baylor College of Medicine, Northwell Health, RWJBarnabas Health, and Selah Freedom.

The Global Strategic Operatives for the Eradication of Human Trafficking was initiated at the United Nations in 2018.

Trump signed an executive order Friday creating a new position within the domestic policy council "solely devoted" to combating human trafficking, said White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan. The person who will fill that position has not yet been named. 

“This is an all-of-government approach with a number of agencies involved,” Grogan said Friday. “Having someone established here in the White House who can coordinate on all these activities is going to really give us a leg up in combating human trafficking.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalterFollow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow

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