Helping people is what EMS providers do. But helping someone at their worst moment can mean more than treating an injury or administering life-saving CPR.
Human trafficking may sound more like a plot point for a Liam Neeson movie than something U.S. EMS providers will encounter on the job, but hundreds of thousands of people are exploited in modern-day slave trading around the world every year, and all 50 states have reported cases. Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit someone for labor or commercial sex. Any minor exploited for commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking. Fire, EMS, medical and public safety workers who may come into contact with these people through the course of their duties can learn to recognize the signs and report them.
The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Health and Human Services (HHS), and many other government and nonprofit organizations work to educate the public and emergency services workers on the prevalence of human trafficking in the United States. But human trafficking worldwide is out of control. Modern slavery traps more people today than in the entire 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade. It’s also the third largest source of income for organized crime, outpacing illegal arms dealing and drugs. And no one is immune. Children as young as five, young women, boys, and even adult males and females are all targets.
But there are tools to help providers combat this problem if they’re faced with it. Through the Blue Campaign, the Polaris Project, Blue Blindfold, Blue Heart and other similar programs, several new resources are now available for fire, EMS and public safety personnel:
- Human Trafficking Video for First Responders—this short seven minute video discusses the means, methods and signs of trafficking can be incorporated into a departmental training.
- Printable two-sided card for fire and EMS (PDF, 181 Kb)—lists indicators and medical symptoms of people who are victims of human trafficking.
- Tools for Service Providers and Law Enforcement—Polaris Project’s interactive training for health care workers, fact sheets for educators, and other resources.
- Human Trafficking Training Program—training for law enforcement officers through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).
For a snapshot of the kinds of things EMS providers should look for, the printable two-sided card referenced above is particularly helpful. Victims of human trafficking may look like many of the people you help. But there are some classical presentations found in trafficking victims:
- Bruises in various stages of healing caused by physical abuse.
- Scars, mutilations, or infections due to improper medical care.
- Urinary difficulties, pelvic pain, pregnancy, or rectal trauma caused from working in the sex industry.
- Chronic back, hearing, cardiovascular, or respiratory problems as a result of forced manual labor in unsafe conditions.
- Poor eyesight and/or eye problems due to dimly lit work sites.
- Malnourishment and/or serious dental problems.
- Disorientation, confusion, phobias, or panic attacks caused by daily mental abuse, torture, and culture shock
Learning to recognize the combined signs will help you accurately alert local or federal authorities for investigation. For a victim of trafficking, this may save a life. Look for the following indicators:
- Is the patient accompanied by another person who seems controlling?
- Does person accompanying the patient insist on giving information/talking?
- Does the patient have trouble communicating due to language/cultural barrier?
- Are the patient’s identification documents (e.g. passport, drivers license) being held or controlled by someone else?
- Does the patient appear submissive or fearful?
- Is the patient inadequately dressed for the situation/work they do?
- Are there security measures designed to keep the patient on the premises?
- Does the patient live in a degraded, unsuitable place/share sleeping quarters?
- Is the patient suffering from classical presentations found in trafficking victims?