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Healthcare Providers Help Human Trafficking Victims

By Helena Tavares Kennedy

Sponsored by Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center

What does human trafficking have to do with a hospital or health care system? Everything. Shockingly, in a survey of sex trafficked survivors, 88% of them said they had contact with a healthcare provider while they were being trafficked, according to Rhonda Boyett, BSN, RN, CEN, SANE-A, Forensic Nursing Program Coordinator for Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center. There is a lot a healthcare provider can do to help victims caught in human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprise that our country is facing. There is a need to educate the general population on what it looks like within our community,” said Boyett. “I choose this topic to focus on because as a Forensic Nurse we are seeing more patients that are being trafficked.”

Sentara’s Forensic Nursing Program recently held a human trafficking seminar that was open to the public, called “Hidden in Plain Sight.” The seminar covered topics like defining and identifying human trafficking, how to report concerns, updates from local schools and law enforcement, and the Prince William County Human Trafficking Taskforce.

“A lot of people may see this seminar and wonder if there’s really a problem,” said Boyett. “I would say to those people: Yes, this is happening within our community as we speak. Sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and domestic servitude.”

“Many people think that human trafficking victims are only those that are “locked/chained up” and operating in illegal underground industries. In reality, it may be a teenage neighbor that is being forced to perform sex acts for someone threatening and/or intimidating the victim,” said Boyett. “In many situations, victims do not identify as victims because of fear, shame, or guilt. There are a lot of vulnerable and impressionable young girls/women out there who are often preyed upon.”

Boyett’s advice for anyone who finds themselves in a vulnerable position where they feel threatened or forced into something that they are uncomfortable with is “please confide in a trusted adult or contact the police directly.”

As the program coordinator and a Forensic Nurse, Boyett takes her role seriously. She consults with patients that present to the Emergency Department that have been a victim of a violent crime. “This looks different for different types of patients and crime,” said Boyett. “We provide victim- and patient-centered care for each of our patients.”

“For sexual assault patients, I may document a head to toe forensic medical exam, collect and preserve evidence, work with the police department, directly connect the patient with a victim advocate, discuss community resources, and help them with safety planning,” said Boyett. “When needed, I go to court and testify as an expert witness.”

If the patient is a competent adult victim of human trafficking, they may be too scared to report to law enforcement. In that case, Boyett steps in and provides emotional support, information and resources on safety planning, and advice on what to do when they are ready to report the situation to officials.

Boyett said, “I would like our community to become more educated on what human trafficking looks like in real life, so we can identify victims quicker and help get them to a safer and healthier situation.”

For help or to report a concern or tip, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline – humantraffickinghotline.org, call 1-888-373-7888 or TEXT – BE FREE (233733).

Sentara is a progressive and integrated healthcare organization with various locations in Prince William County. They are dedicated to providing leading medical experts, advanced technology and continuous innovation to improve health every day. To find a doctor, call 1-800-Sentara or visit sentara.com.

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