Expert Health Articles

Legislation, Human Trafficking and Healthcare

Recent legislation has proven to be effective for trafficked persons. The Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 created the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking. The TVPA introduced a practical approach: prevent trafficking through public awareness, protecting victims of trafficking and prosecuting traffickers. Ohio’s Human Trafficking Law (ORC 2905.32) further defined trafficked persons to include minors and individuals with developmental disabilities.

The state of Ohio, with 19 other states, has enacted legislation encouraging a statewide task force; thus, the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force was created. This force coordinates efforts to identify victims, investigate and prosecute human trafficking and provide services and treatment necessary for victims to regain control of their lives.

Preventative measures throughout the state of Ohio included promoting the National Human Trafficking Hotline, due to Ohio having the fourth-highest number of reported Human Trafficking cases in 2018. This hotline lead to the identification of 509 victims, 228 traffickers and 73 trafficking businesses, disguised massage parlors and/or nail salons. A human trafficking study was also completed, focusing on minors and adults up to 21, revealing the presence of this issue in Ohio.

Criminal penalties for traffickers and purchasers have also increased. Trafficking a person has been named a first-degree felony in the state of Ohio with a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison (ORC 2905.32). Sex traffickers are also required to register as sex offenders and cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school (ORC 2950.01). Although these punishments exist, the prosecution still remains low. If laws are created yet not enforced, this creates a high-profit, low-risk opportunity for traffickers.

The socio-economic inequality of trafficked victims limits their potential to escape. Those with more power, both legally and illegally, call the shots regarding release and rehabilitation. Factors such as poverty, cognitive dissonance, ignorance, lack of funding and/or societal standards corroborate this crime while debt, violence and threats force victims to stay.

An area in need of further exploration is when human trafficking intersects with healthcare. Most human trafficking data has been collected by law enforcement. Given that nearly 88% of victims come into contact with healthcare providers, how can medical professionals assist in the effort to eradicate this injustice?

There is a need for healthcare providers to work beside law enforcement regarding this complex human rights issue. It is suggested that healthcare facilities become proactive and create a Human Anti-Trafficking Response Team (HART). This team could consist of medical providers, social workers, behavioral health, forensic nurses, faith leaders, security and/or hospital leadership. Together, this team can educate front-line medical and non-medical professionals on the red flags of trafficked victims, misconceptions associated with a coerced lifestyle (such as being labeled as a prostitute, drug addict or foreigner) and how to address safety issues and concerns if suspicion is aroused or disclosure occurs. When disclosure occurs, the HART can provide trauma informed care and offer the choice of resources and/or rehabilitation.

The use of a forensic nurse presents an opportunity to increase prosecution rates of traffickers, given details documented in medical records can be used as legal documentation in a court of law. Forensic nurses are familiar with testimony and the evidence collection process. Data regarding this vulnerable patient population can also be collected through the medical records, which can contribute to future insight on the presentation, care and rehabilitation of the trafficked victim.

Mindy M. Lause, RN

Blanchard Valley Hospital Emergency Department