Florida Fighting Human Trafficking With Orlando’s Emergency Medicine Learning & Resource Center

Sep 09, 2014 at 01:42 pm by Staff

In the United States, there are millions of victims of human trafficking; Florida ranks third in the nation in calls to the human trafficking hotline. Attorney General Pam Bondi is out to change that, making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human trafficking by using the eyes and ears of local emergency medicine professionals who will be trained by the Orlando-based Emergency Medicine Learning & Resource Center (EMLRC).

“We can save lives doing this,” Bondi announced at an Orlando press conference presenting the state’s “Human Trafficking Overview for Emergency Medicine Personnel,” and its partnership with the EMLRC. “We have to be proactive and creative to combat human trafficking.”

The EMLRC, which received an Emergency Medical Services State Matching Grant to provide education on recognizing the signs of human trafficking, will begin training emergency medicine personnel this fall.

“EMLRC’s Human Trafficking and Emergency Medicine Project will focus on educating our emergency room professionals on the identifying signs and injury patterns of victims, as well as the proper approach for care,” says Beth Brunner, CAE, EMLRC CEO and executive director of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians (FCEP), which shares the Orlando facility that houses the EMLRC. She says local and state resources will be provided to emergency medicine professionals for distribution to suspected victims.

Emergency personnel may also play a role in identifying traffickers as well.

“We are seeing prolific trends of victims being brought to emergency rooms many times by their traffickers,” says Terry Coonan, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University. He has worked closely with Bondi’s office in developing this initiative.

Brunner says emergency room professionals play a vital role since they are among the only people likely to encounter a victim while still enslaved. Coonan’s research shows that victims of human trafficking have very little contact with anyone in the public eye except health care providers. Because of that, training for emergency medicine professionals is vital to put a stop to this human rights crime.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, 28 percent of trafficking survivors in one study said they came into contact with a healthcare provider during the trafficking situation—and were not recognized.

This type of training does work, as is evident locally in the Orlando area. Orange County Undersheriff Rey Rivero says 30 people have been arrested for sex trafficking in the county as of July 25 since deputies underwent similar training. Prior to training, only seven arrests were made in 2013.

“But victims are scared of local law enforcement," Rivero says. “That’s why it is important to train others.”

EMLRC is the ideal institution to spearhead this initiative since it delivers education and lifesaving training techniques to more than 5,000 of the nation’s emergency care providers each year. Over the past 30 years, EMLRC has provided lifesaving education to nearly one million lifesavers.

“I look forward to eradicating this scourge in our state,” says Michael Lozano, Jr., MD, FACEP, FCEP president. “We are all poised to pick up on these red flags.”

After training has been implemented locally, Bondi and Brunner expect to take this initiative nationwide.

Among the general indicators of trafficking for emergency room professionals to watch for in victims are:

Lack of identification documents. They may claim to be “just visiting.”

No fixed address or may be unable to identify where he or she is living.

Under the control of another—possibly the person accompanying him or her.

Exhibiting fear, hyper-vigilance, depression, submissiveness, or acute anxiety (PTSD).

Typically not be in control of their own money or identification documents.

Unable or reluctant to explain the nature of an injury.

A third party may attempt to speak on behalf of the victim.

Human trafficking victims generally fall into two categories: U.S. citizen children, usually ages 11-13, who have been recruited into a life of prostitution; and foreign nationals for sex trade and forced labor. The latter group knows they are illegal and are reminded of it daily.

The U.S. State Department released its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) in June, noting it is unclear how many actual human trafficking victims there are in the United States or abroad. The Department’s report states that it is a “clandestine crime and few victims and survivors come forward for fear of retaliation, shame, or lack of understanding of what is happening to them.”

“This is the signature human rights issue of our century,” says Coonan. “Our task is to abolish modern-day slavery and this is a major step in that direction.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline’s number is 888.373.7888.

Sections: Events