By Roberteen H. McCray, DO; member, ACOFP Health & Wellness Committee

Hello colleagues, I am going to start this blog with a quick story. For those of you who have read my blog posts in the past, you are no doubt rolling your eyes and thinking, “OMG, there she goes again.” I ask that you bear with me for a few moments.

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from a relative in Louisiana. She was just overwhelmed about the attempted kidnapping of a woman, in broad daylight, by presumed sex traffickers in a city in northwest Louisiana that she often visits for work and personal activities. While we were talking, she jokingly said at one point she was not happy that her weight was reaching the 200-pound mark, but after seeing the would-be victim of kidnapping, she had decided to put on a few more pounds to make it more difficult if someone tried to grab her and throw her in the back of a van.

As silly as that sounds, sex trafficking is getting more and more attention. In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was developed to help combat and prevent sex trafficking, which is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act…induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”

According to the 2021 Federal Human Trafficking Report Executive Summary, 140 new criminal human trafficking cases were filed in the federal court system in 2021, which is a 22% decrease when compared to 2020. Of those new cases, 8% were forced labor and 92% were sex trafficking. Of the cases filed in 2021, there were 449 victims identified; 64% (287) of those identified were victims of sex trafficking and 36% (162) were victims of forced labor. Ninety-three percent of the forced labor victims were foreign nationals who were recruited with the following:

  • Fraudulent job offer (42%)
  • Promise of a visa (29%)
  • Promised essential resources (17%)
  • Promised shelter (15%)
  • Pre-existing relationship with a recruiter (5%)

Since the inception of the TVPA, only 53% (50) of federal districts have charged at least one forced labor case.

Sadly, over half of the victims identified in new criminal human trafficking cases in 2021 were minors. Since 2000, sex traffickers have recruited 55% or more of trafficking victims online usually through social media platforms, web-based messaging applications, online chat rooms, dating applications, classified advertisements or even job board postings. The report indicates that defendants used the internet as their primary method of soliciting buys in 85% of the cases that were filed in federal court. Of the cases filed in 2021, 96% of the sex trafficking defendants were convicted in their respective sex trafficking case with the average term of imprisonment being 160 months.

How do we as clinicians recognize victims of sex trafficking? Here are a few indicators:

  • Inability to speak to the patient alone
  • Answers appear to be scripted or rehearsed
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • The patient is submissive and/or fearful
  • Under the age of 18 and in prostitution or history of recurrent STI/STDs

Additionally, here are a few questions to ask patients if it is safe to do so:

  • Do you feel safe where you are?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you or your family been threatened?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?

These questions may be difficult to ask, as sex traffickers do not give their victims the opportunity to seek help to end their days of being a victim.

For those of you reading this, ask yourself:

  • Would you or your staff recognize a victim of sex trafficking?
  • Are you and your staff aware of the National Human Trafficking Hotline phone number (1-888-373-7888)?
  • Before this post, were you aware of the Federal Human Trafficking Report, the information it contains and where to find it?

At the beginning, I shared my relative’s thoughts. Well, that relative is my youngest sister. I reminded her that she more than likely does not fit the criteria sex traffickers are looking for; however, we took the time to remind ourselves of ways to stay safe and healthy.

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