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Human Trafficking and the Impact on Healthcare

By Tiara Muse, Director, Furst Group

Executives gathered at Rush University Medical Center’s Searle Conference Center on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 to discuss one of public health’s most pressing issues – human trafficking.

L-R, Paula Meyer Besler, Vice President, Advocacy and Operations, Selah Freedom; Kate Lawler, Director, Violence Prevention Program, Swedish Covenant Health – part of NorthShore University Healthsystem; Dr. Julie Geynisman-Tan, Director, ERASE Trafficking Clinic, Northwestern Medicine; (Moderator) Dr. Bruce McNulty, Chief Medical Officer/Chairman, Emergency Medicine, Swedish Covenant Health

Although many people exclusively associate trafficking with sexual activity, the panel opened up the discussion by offering the audience a broader perspective of how trafficking also impacts labor in the U.S. Dr. Julie Geynisman-Tan, Director, ERASE Trafficking Clinic at Northwestern Medicine mentioned that while 40 million people globally are believed to be enslaved in human trafficking, this number could be much larger. She went on to outline the top industries impacted by labor trafficking:

  1. Agriculture/Farms/Animal Husbandry
  2. Domestic Work
  3. Landscapping Services
  4. Hospitality
  5. Restaurant/Food Services
  6. Construction
  7. Education (tied)
  8. Forestry/reforestation (tied)
  9. Traveling carnivals
  10. Healthcare

*Source: 2018 Polaris NHT

Paula Meyer Besler, Vice President of Advocacy and Operations for Selah Freedom described how victims and survivors navigate the trafficking lifestyle and how critical partnerships with hospitals and law enforcement is in fighting the growth of a $150 billion dollar industry. Paula stated that social media is a key way traffickers are luring individuals with 1 in 9 youth receiving online sexual solicitations. She also shared a staggering statistic that 100% of the survivors in Selah Freedom’s program were victims of childhood sexual abuse.

One of the most detrimental outcomes survivors experience is mental health issues. Kate Lawler, Director of the Violence Prevention Program for Swedish Covenant Health – part of NorthShore University Healthsystem discussed the findings of one study that outlined multiple post-trafficking physical and psychological problems which included: memory difficulties, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and concurrent physical health problems. A major challenge to combating human trafficking is resources for program development and training of staff. Kate outlined the following components needed for program development:

The panelist also discussed increased awareness and training for trauma-informed care not only for survivors, but also for staff who may encounter triggering experiences while caring for others. Healthcare providers are in a unique position to combat human trafficking by spotting signs of victims seeking healthcare services while offering non-judegmental support.





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