The medical community could – and perhaps should – be on the front lines in helping to combat sexual-based human trafficking, especially of young people, but few in the profession have the specific knowledge to ask the right questions and follow up appropriately.
A recent forum sponsored by the Arlington County Medical Society attempted to rectify that.
Only 3 percent of medical providers are properly trained to assess trafficking situations, said Dr. Swati Shirali, who represented the Just Ask Prevention Project, a McLean-based advocacy and training organization, at the Jan. 15 event held at Washington Golf & Country Club.
At first glance, medical professionals “may not recognize that [patients] are being trafficked,” said Shirali, an orthopedic surgeon with privileges at Virginia Hospital Center. And unlike stereotypes, the typical sex-trafficking victim lives at home and engages in forced-sexual activity when left unsupervised.
“A lot of these teens are manipulated – they don’t know they should go for help,” she said. “They feel trapped; they can’t get out. Some of them have no one to turn to, and just give up.”
The vast majority – 90 percent – of human-trafficking victims access health-care facilities and personnel at some point during their exploitation. Too often, victims find themselves feeling judged or discriminated against, in part because of a lack of understanding of the issues involved by those in the medical profession.
In her presentation, Shirali ran through a number of real-world incidents, where red flags popped up but were missed or ignored by health-care workers.
“You need to look one step beyond,” she said of the patient relationships. “We really need to talk to them on their level, be very non-judgmental. We’re all rushed . . . [but] take that extra moment.”
Despite advances in awareness, medical professionals still have a learning curve to address and peppered Shirali with questions at the forum.
One physician recalled the story of a pregnant 14-year-old patient who she suspected might be at risk, but “I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to.”
Read the rest of the story at Inside NoVA
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