Human Trafficking and Healthcare: A Historical Perspective

By Jeffrey J. Barrows, D.O., M.A.

perspectiveIn a landmark article on child abuse entitled” The Battered Child Syndrome” published in July of 1962 in JAMA, Dr. Henry Kempe and his coauthors attempted to estimate the incidence of child abuse in America. A survey of 71 hospitals uncovered 302 cases. At the same time, they surveyed 77 District Attorneys who had knowledge of 447 cases across the country. While certainly not a scientific nationwide survey, this article represented the best estimation of child abuse at that time.

They concluded that in 1962, there were approximately 749 cases of child abuse in the U.S. By 1969, there were over 60,000 cases of child abuse reported within the U.S. That number jumped to 670,000 in 1979 and by 1990, there were over 1.2 million confirmed cases of child abuse within the U.S.

The number of cases of child abuse went from 749 in 1962 to 1.2 million in 1990.

What happened?

It’s highly unlikely an increase in child abuse suddenly materialized after 1962. The change that brought about this vastly increased number of cases was one of awareness, education, and reporting.

There were campaigns to increase awareness that child abuse was occurring all around us. Programs were started to educate healthcare professionals on how to recognize child abuse. Subsequently, over time, states passed mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse.

And it took 30 years…

As we look now to the healthcare profession to successfully intervene in the tragic horror of human trafficking, it behooves us to remember the lessons learned in tackling the calamity of child abuse.

We must first raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking all around us in the U.S. by starting new campaigns within the healthcare profession.

Second, we must educate healthcare professionals to recognize victims of human trafficking that come into the healthcare system. A recent report by Dr. Laura Lederer found that almost 88% of victims of domestic sex trafficking encountered a healthcare professional while being trafficked. Tragically, none of them reported being identified and assisted by those healthcare professionals.

Finally, just as every emergency department has a protocol in place on how to report and respond to victims of child abuse, every emergency room within the U.S. should begin developing a response protocol for victims of human trafficking.

And hopefully we can accomplish it in less than 30 years…

Jeffrey Barrows, D.O., M.A., is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist who in 2005 began working with the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons office to study the health consequences of human trafficking. In May 2008, he published the article Human Trafficking and the Healthcare Professional published in the Southern Medical Journal. In 2006 he began teaching healthcare professionals how to recognize potential human trafficking victims and in June of that year, he completed a consultation on the health needs of trafficking victims in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In 2008, He founded Gracehaven, a non-profit organization working to build a rehabilitative facility for adolescent girls who are victims of child sex trafficking in Ohio. In 2014, he became a member of the Technical Working Group on health and human trafficking under HHS’s Administration for Children and Families. He is currently the VP of Education and Advocacy with Abolition International, a non-profit working to abolish sex trafficking worldwide.

Cancer InCytes magazine has published articles about the chronic health risks immigrant children encounter due to their exposures to poverty, violence and trauma.

Further Reading:
The Health Problems That Face Sex Trafficking Victims and Survivors
Barriers to Healthcare For Trafficked Women and Children
Kempe CH, Silverman FM, Steele BF, et Al. (1962Jul7) “The Battered Child Syndrome”. JAMA 181(1):105-112.
Lederer, L. and Wetzel, C.A. “The Health Consequences of Sex Trafficking and Their Implications for Identifying Victims in Healthcare Facilities”. (2014) The Annals of Health Law 23:1. 61-91.
Image by: fiddleoak via photopin


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