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10 Signs of Child Trafficking in Medical Care

Posted by Kristy Alexander on


Are you in the medical field or work in healthcare? Did you know that nurses and physicians are often in a unique position to identify and help a victim of human trafficking? According to a 2014 study, 88% of human trafficking survivors reported having some kind of contact with the healthcare system while they were trafficked. Sadly, though, a survey conducted by Physicians Against Human Trafficking (PATH), showed that more than 70% of physicians claimed they would not know what to do if they encountered a victim of sex trafficking.

Here are the top 10 things medical practitioners should look for to help identify a human trafficking victim, according to a recent article in Physicians Weekly:

  • Bruising, scars, burns, cuts, especially those in non-apparent places
  • Multiple STD or pregnancy tests
  • Fearful, anxious or depressed mood
  • Cash payments, no insurance
  • Malnourished
  • A third party may speak for the patient and not allow them to speak
  • Substance addiction or the appearance of withdrawal symptoms
  • Lying about age
  • Patient transient or no address (or the patient doesn’t know what city he/she is in)
  • Tattoo of a name or strange symbol 

“Trafficking victims are frequently tattooed with the name of their trafficker, or the trafficker has some sort of tag that’s an identifying tag, so that if the victim tries to run away she can be readily identified by other pimps as the property of her trafficker,” says Lori Cohen, Director, Anti-Trafficking Initiative Sanctuary for Families in a PATH video. “If a healthcare provider asks the right questions in an environment that’s not judgmental and where a message is being communicated that this is being asked to help the individual, in many cases, a victim will be able to disclose what her experience has been.” 

The article also lists the following intervention techniques:

Do not react in the moment or act shocked if a young person decides to disclose their situation. This can be interpreted the wrong way, as a reaction or disgust toward the victim.

Protect the patient’s identity and privacy even before anyone else is called in: the moment the healthcare provider suspects the patient trafficking victim, change the patient’s name in the records, providing alias.

Write the patient a prescription for a follow up for some medical indication, otherwise you may never see that patient again.

Get the patient alone, especially if they are accompanied by a controlling companion who insists on answering providers’ questions.

Ask your patient if s/he’d like the police involved. Patients should be assured that what they are telling physicians will be kept confidential. They should also be aware that there are times when they are a mandatory reporter.

Avoid the rescue fantasy. This impulse is normal and harmful. Intervening prematurely or without patient consent compromises trust. Physicians can’t fix the situation but may be able to provide a stepping stone in a potentially long path. “Intervening can be very complicated. Trust is key. If a doctor can continue to communicate that they are concerned about you—we want to help you, we’re not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do—it gives the patient space to believe that this is someone who really cares about her,” says Cohen. 

How to Report Human Trafficking

  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center (888-3737-888)
  • Text “BeFree” (233733)
  • Childhelp (800-4-A-CHILD)
  • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (800-THE-LOST) 

Major portions of this article were obtained from Physicians Weekly.


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1 comment


  • Thank you for this article. I shared to Facebook and tried to email to friends not on Facebook but can’t figure out how.

    Jodi Seitlin on

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