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Healthcare professionals learn how to spot victims of human trafficking

Posted at 9:57 AM, Feb 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-06 12:41:00-05

HELENA – Medical providers play a role on the front lines in the fight against human trafficking.

That was the message Tuesday in Helena when America Unchained Project executive director Charity Perenzini spoke to a group of healthcare workers at St. Peter’s Health.

The talk was in collaboration with the Montana Department of Justice.

Perenzini said almost 88% of human trafficking victims will see a medical provider while they’re in captivity. That’s why knowing the physical and verbal indicators of a trafficking victim, and the resources available to them, is so important.

“There are one in maybe 10 or 15 interactions with law enforcement, with medical providers, someone from the outside world looking in, that are going to build a rapport with them,” Perenzini told MTN.  “So at some point when they can’t take another day, they have a safe place to go.”

Some signs someone may be a victim of trafficking include physical signs of trauma, unexplained or conflicting stories, an inappropriate outfit for weather conditions, use of terminology from “the life,” and lack of control of own finances.

Healthcare workers may also notice multiple or recurring sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy at a young age, Perenzini said.

She told workers in the room to speak to people they believe may be victims with empathy and dignity, using open-ended questions. She also emphasized offering resources and keeping detailed records of patients.

“If they can just trust that their little piece adds up to the rescue of a human trafficking victim, whether they ever know it or not, and they believe, ‘I’m playing my part when I do this,’ that’s what we want them to take away from this,” she said. 

“We want to make sure that our medical providers in Montana have the very best in training on what to look for,” said Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.  “It only takes an hour to learn the signs, and apply that in your work.”

Perenzini said human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking, is the third largest organized crime in the world. About 40 million people live in slavery worldwide.

According to Fox, more training is being planned for medical providers in Missoula and Billings. Soon, workers across the state will also be able to take online courses about human trafficking.

He said because there isn’t much money allocated to fight human trafficking, public-private partnerships with organizations like Missoula-based America Unchained provide a lot of value to the DOJ.

If you believe someone is a victim of trafficking, call your local law enforcement. You can also call the Blue Campaign National Hotline at 1-866-347-2423, or text “HELP” or “INFO” to BeFree (233733).

To learn more about the signs of human trafficking, visit the Montana Department of Justice’s website.

-Evelyn Schultz reporting for MTN News