March 13, 2015
2 min read

Course helps clinicians identify trafficking victims in health care settings

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A training session on recognizing and supporting victims of human trafficking, organized by the American Medical Women’s Association, will be held Saturday, March 14, 2015, at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, in California.

“In this particular training we are reaching out not just to physicians, but to all health care providers. It is something that therapists, social workers, nurses, everyone has the opportunity to interface with these victims,” Eliza Chin, MD, MPH, FACP, executive director of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), told Medicine.

Eliza Chin

It is estimated that over one million adults and 400,000 children are in danger of being trafficked for sex in the U.S., according to a study by Barrows and colleagues. Nearly half of these people will visit a medical clinic or ED, without being identified as victims.

“We are really in a unique position to intervene on behalf of these individuals. Particularly children. These people are coming to us for help. They are coming to us as physicians and entrusting us with their care. They come to the ER with multiple medical problems, but we miss the most important problem; that they are literally imprisoned or enslaved. We are missing the big picture in general largely because of the failure to train physicians. It is not currently part of any standard medical or nursing school curriculum,” Douglas Chin, MD, FACS, director of outreach for Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans and AMWA, told Medicine.

Douglas Chin

According to a study by Chisolm-Straker and colleagues, 87% of health care providers said that they would be unable to recognize trafficking victims, and 97% had never received any training in human trafficking.

“Lack of training causes us to feel awkward, bewildered and even intimidated when faced with a trafficking victim,” Douglas Chin said in a press release.

The training session will offer health care providers with tangible tools and clinical signs to use in their practice to help identify, treat and help sex trafficking victims. Moreover, the course will highlight the significant health consequences that trafficking victims face such as fractures and lacerations from beatings, frequent STDs, depression, anxiety, PTSD, dental caries and malnutrition.

Risk factors that could indicate a victim include a history of sexual or emotional abuse, broken families and foster situations, according to Douglas Chin. Physical signs to look for would include wounds around the wrist, cigarette burns, odd orthopedic injuries, signs of weather exposure and inappropriate clothing.

“One of our big goals is to see that this is recognized by the larger medical community. Raise awareness and provide tools that [health care workers] can use in their practices. Our ultimate goal would be to see if we could add this training into the general medical curriculum at medical schools, or at least residencies,” he told Medicine.

More information about registering for the course can be found here. – by Casey Hower


Barrows J, et al. South Med J. 2008;doi:10.1097/SMJ.0b013e31816c017d.

Chisolm-Straker M, Richardson L. Acad. Emerg Med 14. 2007;(suppl 1):134.

Disclosure: Medicine was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.