In 2016, a young woman showed up at the emergency department of Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance. The woman was deaf and used lip reading and handwritten notes to tell caregivers where she was hurting. Shortly after, she was admitted to the hospital for stomach pain.
Lori Eastman, LCSW, manager of patient and family services at the medical center, visited the young woman and found some strange things about her situation.
Eastman learned she had traveled across the country to visit a friend, but that “friend” was keeping her things “safe,” including her ID. She asked the woman if she would like a sign language interpreter. The woman agreed. Eastman could see her relax once the interpreter was in the room and she could communicate in her preferred manner.
Then the woman’s story started to pour out. She told the interpreter how she had left her home state, and that her supposed friend was selling her and was abusive. He had total control of her and all of her personal belongings – phone, computer, purse and luggage – and he never let her use any of it.
Reunited with family
Eastman contacted the local police who found that a missing persons report had been filed for the young woman. A few days later the woman’s family arrived to take her home. They were grateful to Eastman and the Providence care team for digging deeper into the woman’s story when they suspected something wasn’t right. The family thought they would never see her again.
“It’s not their fault,” Eastman says of victims of human trafficking. “We have an opportunity to help rescue these victims. Sometimes it’s just asking a simple question: ‘Can I call someone you trust?’ or ‘Can I call your family?’”
This is a single instance of what happens countless times in our health care system. Unfortunately, not every story has a rescue at the end.
What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to control their victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against her or his will.
There are many different forms of human trafficking, including:
- Commercial sex (i.e. prostitution, stripping, pornography and live-sex shows)
- Domestic servitude
- Sweatshop factories
- Manual labor and construction
- Migrant agricultural work
- Child soldiers
In the U.S, there were 20,424 calls to the human trafficking hotline in 2016. California reported the highest number of human trafficking cases, followed by Texas and then Florida.
Worldwide, an estimated 20.9 million victims are being trafficked at any given time.
- 68 percent of them are trapped in forced labor
- 26 percent of them are children
- 55 percent are women and girls
Providence joins the call to action
Consider this: 87 percent of human trafficking survivors report that the only professionals with whom they came in contact while enslaved were health care personnel.
Providence caregivers may be the only chance some victims will ever have to escape and heal. In response to this global atrocity, Providence is training our emergency department and labor and delivery unit caregivers on how to identify people involved in human trafficking. Furthermore, we’re forming community partnerships in order to provide essential resources for people who leave or escape from traffickers.
How you can help
If you’re a victim of human trafficking or suspect someone you know is, call the human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or email email@example.com.
The Catholic Health Association of the United States is partnering with Providence. CHA is committed to educating people about human trafficking and finding ways to stop it. Click here for an overview of CHAUSA initiatives, ways to help and more.
Polaris is a nonprofit organization leading the effort to eradicate modern slavery around the world. Their website is comprehensive and easy to navigate. Learn more by clicking here.
Read the CHAUSA article, Human Trafficking – Look Around: It’s In Our Own Backyard, for an overview of modern slavery.
Oree Freeman is a survivor of human trafficking and an advocate for young girls. Last year she spoke at an awareness event in Seattle and her compelling talk was recorded. Click here to watch her tell her story.
Oree is one of thousands of people trapped in this horrific ring of human trafficking. Recently, a smart, intuitive and caring Alaska Airlines flight attendant, Shelia Fedrick, helped save the life of a teenage girl who was a victim of human trafficking. You can see this story here.