Health care, social workers lack training to I.D. child trafficking victims

By Laura Mize • Published: June 8th, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you met a child victim of sex trafficking, would you realize it? Would you know how to help her?

A new study shows that many health care providers and social workers might not. Results of a survey conducted in Wisconsin revealed that most of the survey participants … 63 percent … had never been trained to identify trafficking victims. These victims require specialized treatment for medical and mental health issues caused by the abuse they’ve endured.

If trained, experts say that health care providers could be in an ideal position to help identify victims … and get them to the care they need.

Questionnaires handed out to health care workers, social workers and family advocates asked participants to read two scenarios and indicate whether they thought the child described was a victim of sex trafficking. Some respondents answered the questions correctly, but many seemed confused about whether the situations constituted trafficking.

The definition of human trafficking used in the questionnaire was taken from a federal law regarding protection of victims.

Some of the issues that tripped up respondents included whether the child was coerced into sexual behavior and whether the child’s caregiver was involved. Legally speaking, these factors don’t matter when minors are involved.

Another key point, one many participants did know: Trafficking doesn’t always involve moving people to different states or countries. It all can unfold within a single community.

But you don’t have to be a professional to help. According to the U.S. State Department, warning flags for trafficking include employees living with an employer, or people who seem fearful and do not have access to their own identity documents. If you suspect trafficking, contact law enforcement and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.