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Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking Not Easy Task

UVMC Human Trafficking seminar

TROY – Working to identify a victim of human trafficking can be similar to making a diagnosis, Jeffrey Barrows, DO, told health care professionals during an education program at Upper Valley Medical Center.

The world of human trafficking, whether domestic or international, remains a mystery to many, though Dr. Barrows said awareness is growing.
He defined trafficking as “any form of extreme exploitation of one human being by another for personal or financial gain.” 

The motive behind most human trafficking is money, Dr. Barrows said. The most common forms are labor exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation.

Victims of trafficking may be hidden and may not want to be found, he said.

“Who knows? Victims of trafficking can be around you, and you not know it,” said Dr. Barrows.

An Ohio resident, he is a former gynecologist now working to raising awareness about human trafficking, particularly involving minors for sex.  His work includes helping raise awareness among health care professionals.

He has worked with the Christian Medical Association and the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons’ Office and served on the Ohio Attorney General’s commission to study human trafficking in Ohio.

Good statistics on the number of victims of human trafficking are not available, he said. 

The number of domestic minor sex trafficking victims in the country was estimated at 100,000 in 2010 by the director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  The Ohio commission’s official estimate of all human trafficking victims in the state was just over 1,000 though Dr. Barrows said a “gut feeling” is the number could be at least two times that.

Indicators of a possible victim include someone under control of another, physically and/or psychologically; inconsistences in what is being told to care givers when a potential victim arrives at an Emergency Department; and physical signs of trauma, Dr. Barrows said. Physical indicators could include bruises, broken teeth, malnutrition, poor hygiene and evidence of neglected health.

If someone is controlling the victim, the person controlling likely will answer questions and handle the victim’s identification documents.

Body language is important. “They can’t do it (communicate) verbally. They will do it nonverbally,” Dr. Barrows said of victims.

He reminded health care professionals they are mandated to report suspected trafficking, but not mandated to intervene. Whether to intervene, when and how are among policy decisions that need to be addressed in a protocol for the hospital or other site where someone comes for treatment, Dr. Barrows said.

Establishing protocols is in the early stages in Ohio, he said. Protocols must cover a wide range of issues such as local law enforcement contacts and trained professionals such as social workers to interview potential victims.

Dr. Barrows said it is important to get as much identifying information as possible to help law enforcement in any investigation. A vehicle license plate should be provided, if possible, he said.

Although some treatment facilities exist to help human trafficking victims, there remains a “huge” service gap for these victims, Dr. Barrows said.

He said it will take time to increase human trafficking awareness. While the ‘70s was the decade of child abuse awareness and domestic violence in the ‘80s, “this is the decade for human trafficking.  It takes time and we are hoping to see more money,” Dr. Barrows said.

For more information on Dr. Barrows and human trafficking information, visit www.cmda.org.

Content Updated: December 1, 2014

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