Thursday, August 06, 2020

Human trafficking is on the rise, and rural health-care providers are uniquely positioned to identify victims

Human trafficking may sound like a faraway problem to many, but it happens in rural areas, and rural health-care providers must be alert to it. That's because up to 88 percent of trafficking survivors said they interacted with health-care providers while they were trafficked, Jenn Lukens reports for the Rural Health Information Hub's Rural Monitor.

Human trafficking involves force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or commercial sex acts, and it's on the rise. According to the federally funded nonprofit Polaris, which maintains a hotline and one of the largest data sets on human trafficking in the U.S., "Human trafficking has continued to rise, from 7,748 confirmed cases reported to the hotline in 2016 to 10,949 in 2018. Polaris’s demographic breakdown shows that nearly half of survivors are minors, there are five times more females trafficked than males, and minorities are more likely to be trafficked," Lukens reports. "It has been identified as a public-health concern by researchers, federal agents, and healthcare professionals alike."

Both sex trafficking and labor trafficking have been identified as problems in rural America, though sex trafficking is nearly eight times more common. There are no definitive statistics on the incidence of human trafficking in rural areas, but the secluded nature of many rural areas makes them attractive to traffickers, Lukens reports.

"While cinematic portrayals of human trafficking may resemble reality in some parts of the world, research has found that what is true in rural America can look much different," Lukens reports. "Those trafficked commonly have vulnerabilities, such as recent migration or relocation, single motherhood, recent contact with the child-welfare system, a substance dependency, homelessness, or mental-health conditions. Often, the victim already has a relationship with the perpetrator who has taken advantage of their trust and targeted their vulnerabilities to create dependency."

Rural health-care providers are uniquely positioned to identify human trafficking victims since health-care facilities are one of the few places trafficked people may be allowed to visit. Some states, hospital systems, and federal agencies have released guides or begun programs meant to help providers identify victims, like this one from the Nebraska Hospital Association. Lukens' article has a list of resources.

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