The thought of slavery is preposterous, yet human trafficking is the most common form of modern-day slavery, and it is alive and well. An estimated 199,000 incidents of human trafficking occur every year in the United States. It is a violation of human rights that involves deception, force, coercion, fraud, and extortion. Traffickers prey upon susceptible individuals, particularly those who are emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, financially unstable, runaways, or persons living in unstable conditions due to the political climate.
Victims can be men or women, and there is no ethnicity or nationality exempt from its threat. Women are generally used for sexual exploitation, while men are used as slave labor. People of all ages are trafficked, however, 1 in 5 victims is a child. Child sex trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world. Children are exploited and used for child labor, pornography, sexual exploitation, and begging.
Rescued victims report they do not speak up out of fear of their traffickers, or due to language barriers. As professionals, we have an obligation to know and recognize the signs that may indicate victimization. We must have the courage to speak for those without a voice. Our alertness and astute observations could very well save a life.
Traffickers are aware that medical professionals are becoming more assertive in their knowledge of the signs and indications of human trafficking. However, dentistry is not generally considered as much of a threat by traffickers. They may allow victims to see providers such as hygienists and dentists, for care to improve esthetics and make them more attractive to potential clients.
How can we stand courageous and ready to act should we ever find a suspected victim in our dental chair? By arming ourselves with knowledge, we arm ourselves with the tools necessary to initiate emancipation.
Suspected individuals may show signs of physical injuries such as:
- intraoral soft tissue trauma
- bruising and scarring of the oral tissues
- excessively underweight or signs of malnourishment
- signs of physical abuse, including injury and bruising
- awkward social interaction
- avoiding eye contact
- overly rehearsed responses
- unable to speak with victim alone/victim never alone
- not in possession of their identification documents
- overly submissive, timidity, and hyper-vigilant behavior
- unusual tattoos which could indicate branding
If you have the unlikely ability to speak with the victim privately, assure them they are physically safe with you, as are their responses to the following questions:
- Are you being held against your will?
- Can you come and go as you please?
- Would you be threatened or hurt if you tried to leave?
- Do you have identification or a passport?
- Are you living with your employer?
If after noting the indicators above, you remain confident your patient is a potential victim, what do you do next? Discreetly make note of as many details as possible and take pictures, if at all possible. Document conversational innuendos, along with the typical pertinent information associated with any suspected crime: physical description of the suspected victim including height, weight, and hair color. Does the hair show signs of being dyed or bleached? In addition, try to note the physical appearance of the people present with the suspected victim. What make, model and color vehicle are they driving?
While it may be impossible and unsafe for you to attempt to rescue the victim, law enforcement should be immediately notified. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RESCUE A VICTIM YOURSELF. Attempting to do so may put your office, your team, and the victim at risk, as you do not know how the trafficker may retaliate. In addition, the National Human Trafficking Hotline should be notified. They will work with local law enforcement to ensure responding officers are trained in dealing with victims of human trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is: 1-888-373-7888. They are available 24 hours/day and multilingual to provide immediate help and to connect victims with local anti-trafficking assistance and resources.
Her clinical and support team experiences are the inspiration for her writing and the motivation for coaching clients to success. She is a regular contributor to various publications within dentistry and beyond. In addition to feeding the homeless, starting a non-profit, and being involved in her church and other community organizations, she sings professionally and enjoys several creative outlets. She resides in Florida where she enjoys the company of her husband, three children, and four beautiful grandchildren.