Identifying Human Trafficking in the Emergency Department
- Human Trafficking (HT) and exploitation is a clandestine crime that victimizes vulnerable Canadians, including women, children/ youth and members of the LGBTQ community. Forms of HT encountered in the Emergency Department (ED) may include sex trafficking, forced labor, forced criminal activity, and illegal organ donation.
- Nationally, 93% of HT victims are Canadian born, often moved from province to province. During the trafficking process, many victims will seek medical care, most commonly in the ED.
- HT victims are difficult to identify, resulting in many victims being discharged from the ED back into the hands of their trafficker.
- Identification of HT victims in the ED is crucial. It is the first step toward exiting exploitation and beginning rehabilitation.
Consider risk factors for HT:
- Homeless or runaways
- Female, child/ youth or LGBTQ status
- Lack of formal education
- Ethnic minority groups, including Aboriginal descent
- Youth in foster care/ group home
- History of physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Mental illness (eg. depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis, etc.)
- Substance misuse
- Temporary foreign worker or non-english speaking
- History of involvement with law enforcement
Consider potential indicators of HT:
- Reproductive health issues (eg. STI’s, unwanted pregnancy, abortions, etc)
- Evidence of physical abuse and deprivation
- Workplace injury
- Inappropriate attire
- Tattoos or other forms of branding
- Lack of official documents (eg. MSP, WBC, Passport, etc)
- Constant use of cell phones/ being monitored
- Vague, scripted or inconsistent history
- Unusual behaviour (eg. evasive, anxious, fearful, etc.)
- Presence of a controlling person (eg. Partner, employer, family member, etc.)
If a patient is showing risk factors for HT, screen for violence by separating the patient from their accompaniment and engaging an interpreter (if applicable.)
Consider the following screening questions:
- Tell me about your living situation
- Has anyone ever threatened to harm you or your loved-ones?
- Are you free to come and go as you please?
- Were you (or anyone you work with) ever hurt or threatened for working slowly or for trying to leave?
- Has anyone ever asked you to have sex in exchange for money, food, shelter, or other items?
Some studies have developed screening tools to help identify HT victims, however, validated screening tools that can be largely generalized have yet to be developed.
Quality Of Evidence?
We are highly confident that the true effect lies close to that of the estimate of the effect. There is a wide range of studies included in the analyses with no major limitations, there is little variation between studies, and the summary estimate has a narrow confidence interval.
We consider that the true effect is likely to be close to the estimate of the effect, but there is a possibility that it is substantially different. There are only a few studies and some have limitations but not major flaws, there are some variations between studies, or the confidence interval of the summary estimate is wide.
When the true effect may be substantially different from the estimate of the effect. The studies have major flaws, there is important variations between studies, of the confidence interval of the summary estimate is very wide.
Human trafficking is significantly under-reported: up to 90% of victims do not report to authorities. As a result, large studies are limited. Much of the research in this area is observational, retrospective, and qualitative: often based on interviews with survivors.
Online Module: Human trafficking – Help Don’t Hinder (Fraser Health Authority)
The purpose of this document is to provide health care professionals with key facts and recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of patients in the emergency department. This summary was produced by the BC Emergency Medicine Network and uses the best available knowledge at the time of publication. However, healthcare professionals should continue to use their own judgment and take into consideration context, resources and other relevant factors. The BC Emergency Medicine Network is not liable for any damages, claims, liabilities, costs or obligations arising from the use of this document including loss or damages arising from any claims made by a third party. The BC Emergency Medicine Network also assumes no responsibility or liability for changes made to this document without its consent.
Last Updated Mar 09, 2020
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