Lawmakers and health providers team up to help sex trafficking victims

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WASHINGTON (GrayDC)-- Sex trafficking occurs all across the country. From 2007 to 2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline says they received 34 thousand 7 hundred reports of sex trafficking cases in the U-S.

Congressman Roger Marshall (R-KS) holds a roundtable at the Library of Congress to encourage healthcare professionals to share tips on helping sex trafficking victims (Source: Gray DC)

Many victims visit doctors multiple times a year for illnesses. The doctors treat them, but they often fail to recognize their patient is a victim of trafficking. Health care workers and lawmakers teamed up to share ideas on how to spot victims.

"They tell me they were recruited by a friend in high school, they were being trafficked by their family member," said Kanani Titchen, the Director of Adolescent Medicine at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx in New York.

Dr. Kanani Titchen has treated countless trafficked victims in her career in hospitals and clinics. Titchen said, sadly, many trafficking victims go unnoticed.

"They have all the red flags of trafficking and yet they're being missed," said Titchen.

Titchen is one of many healthcare professionals who met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The healthcare providers' goal: share tips to help doctors and nurses better recognize the signs of trafficking. One of those is paying attention to patient medical records.

"The injury doesn't fit the history you're getting as a physician or as a nurse," said Titchen.

"Maybe they're presenting with repeated sexually-transmitted infections," she said.

Kansas Republican Congressman Roger Marshall (R-KS)--an OB-GYN by trade--coordinated the meeting with doctors and healthcare providers.
He wants to see hospitals develop a standard protocol once a victim is identified.

"They need housing, they need food, they need some mental help as well," said Rep. Marshall (R-KS).

Marshall said it's not Congress' job to micromanage finding a solution, but he says the federal government can help by providing grant money to local communities to help victims.

Arizona's Republican Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) was also in the roundtable meeting. She said sex trafficking is an epidemic in the state. She said it will take everyone from the federal, state and local levels to get victims out of a dangerous situation.

"On the federal side, we passed legislation to provide more resources so that healthcare workers who are most likely to come in contact with some of these victims would have the training for the awareness and what to do to identify victims," McSally said.

Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco--an author and expert on human trafficking--said protocols and training are important. But she cautions there's a lack of scientific data right now to set out a plan that will work.

"Sometimes you can do more harm than good," said Mehlman-Orozco.

"We have to be aware of the likelihood of misidentification and whether that impinges upon someone's civil rights."

Mehlman-Orozco recommends researchers work closely with doctors, nurses and survivors to do research in hospitals to find ways to properly identify victims.

Mehlman-Orozco said that research will determine the best future protocols for hospitals and training for hospital staff.

If you suspect a situation of sex trafficking, you are urged to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or send a text to 233733.