Nurses, physicians and social workers continue their education on proper responses for human trafficking patients. Madeline Coats/staff photo

Nurses, physicians and social workers continue their education on proper responses for human trafficking patients. Madeline Coats/staff photo

Health care professionals improve response for human trafficking victims

EvergreenHealth partnered with Seattle Against Slavery in the fight against labor and sex trafficking.

EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland partnered with Seattle Against Slavery on June 21 to continue the conversation with health care professionals about recognizing and providing help to human trafficking victims.

Claudia Lawrence, community mobilization director for Seattle Against Slavery, delivered a presentation to nursing staff, physicians and social workers on the importance of identifying signs of exploitation in children and adults. She focused her lecture on the vast intersectionality of human trafficking.

“Not everyone who is trafficked is aware they are trafficked,” said Lawrence.

Victims of trafficking are clustered in the most vulnerable populations, but any type of person can be trafficked. It could be an immigrant from South America lured by the false promise of a decent job or a youth runaway enticed by the idea of finally having a “father figure,” explained Lawrence.

“Human trafficking is the most non-discriminatory plight in our community,” she said. “It really touches on every single sector of the community.”

Nearly 88 percent of human trafficking victims were seen by health care providers while being trafficked, as stated by a study in the Annals of Health Law.

The event was hosted by the Kirkland-based hospital’s forensic nurse examiner team. The group of nurses provide 24-hour care to sexual assault survivors, including access to emergency physicians, social workers and support services.

Seattle Against Slavery is a grassroots nonprofit organized by citizens in King County over the previous 10 years. Their partnership with the hospital aims to mobilize the community in the fight against labor and sex trafficking.

According to the legal definition, human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to make an individual work in any industry. The exploitation of labor dominates other forms of trafficking, explained Lawrence.

The partnership between the hospital and the nonprofit aims to improve the response by health care and law enforcement professionals. Lawrence hopes to push out any preconceived notions and biases about pimps and prostitutes. She highlighted the importance of the relationship between nurses and patients.

“You can literally walk into a room and sit down opposite from someone and ask them very intimate questions about themselves,” she said. That one-on-one interaction may allow victims to open up about their experiences.

As referenced in the presentation, Washington state has the 13th highest number of human trafficking cases reported. King County is estimated to have 300-500 youths sold in commercial sexual exploitation daily. The average age of entry into trafficking businesses has dropped to 13-14 years old over recent years.

Lawrence emphasized the fact that 100 percent of all related arrests in King County have been male suspects. Eighty percent of them are white, she said.

King County is a major hotspot for human trafficking due to various ports. Airports and maritime ports are used to transport immigrants, asylees and refugees into the states.

“There wasn’t much of a relationship with Seattle Against Slavery before,” said Barb Jensen, EvergreenHealth’s manager of trauma services.

Work with the forensic nurse examiner team discovered that it was a larger issue than originally anticipated, she explained.

“I’m just going to keep at it,” said Jensen. “We are so passionate about the FNE team and the need there is for it. This is just another piece of that big puzzle.”

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