Most Doctors Couldn’t Spot a Human-Trafficking Victim If They Saw One — Could You?
When we think about or hear about human trafficking, we generally assume it's just an foreign problem. But more and more, that's not the case.
Could you recognize a human trafficking victim if you saw one? Most physicians can't.
A doctor in California was faced with this situation when a young woman came into his clinic with an older male with her who hovered around her the entire time of her visit. She had tattoos on her body and gray marks on her skin. The doctor would come to find out that she was a victim of human trafficking.
According to a new Yahoo article, less than 10 percent of doctors recognize trafficking victims and less than 3 percent of ER doctors have received training in recognizing trafficking signs and symptoms.
What are some of the telltale signs?
According to the doctor, the gray marks were something called postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is the result of repeated trauma. The tattoos were probably an indication that she was property.
Human trafficking, for both sex and labor, is not just an international problem; it is a U.S. problem. According to estimates, roughly 1 million adults and 400,000 children are presumed to be at risk for sex trafficking annually on American soil.
It’s big business, with relatively low risk and high reward.
According to Holly Atkinson, MD, director of the Human Rights Program at Mount Sinai in New York City and co-chair of the American Medical Women’s Association’s Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans (PATH) initiative, global revenues for human trafficking likely exceed 31 billion dollars annually.
It is so lucrative, probably only second to drug trafficking in revenue. "This is because you can sell a human 10, 20, even 30 times a day. You can’t sell drugs or a firearm that many times," said Atkinson.
And there is no specific profile for victims of trafficking. It can affect people of any gender, age, race or social class.
"One of the biggest myths is that it doesn’t happen here or that most victims are foreign-born. With sex trafficking, it’s not true," said Atkinson. "They're recruiting at schools, in shopping malls. They are using psychological techniques, acting as boyfriends to young girls, buying them things — and then they start to ask for things. An example being, ‘If you really loved me, you’d have sex with my friend.'"
Physicians are now being taught how to recognize signs that a person seeking medical care is a victim. These include any of the risk factors related to background and personal history, in addition to physical evidence such as bruises, tattoos, brands and burns.
Sometimes doctors find burns as a way of branding or discipline. Victims are often marked for ownership. Sometimes on the face or with ink like bar codes, dollar signs and names of male captors or pimps. There have also been signs of beating, scars and orthopedic trauma.
Psychological signs are also common, including extreme anxiety, post trauamtic strees disorder (PTSD) symptoms, anger and belligerent comments. Victims are often very mistrustful, which often puts doctors off while treating them, but it’s really a defense mechanism.
The good news is doctors and the general public are becoming aware and becoming educated. So hopefully we can all work together to bring an end to this and all horrific forms of slavery both abroad and in our own country, state and county.