St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center has launched an anti-human trafficking initiative that includes mandatory screening for victims in emergency rooms and obstetrics departments.
The program aims to combat an industry whose tentacles are growing in Phoenix, identified by federal authorities as one of the nation’s top human trafficking jurisdictions. The average age of a teen entering the sex trade in Arizona is 14, and police have reported victims as young as 9.
St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center staff will be trained to look for red flags that include homelessness, discrepancy between reported and apparent ages, lack of identification and a dominating or controlling companion who refuses to leave the patient alone.
Once identified, victims will be referred to community agencies for support and assistance.
“We cannot allow victims of human trafficking who visit our hospitals to fall through the cracks,” said Sister Margaret McBride, MPA, Vice President of Mission Integration for Dignity Health. “The signs of their suffering have gone unnoticed for too long. By training our medical staff to identify victims, we can put them in touch with services that will help them begin to rebuild their lives.”
With a tourism-driven economy, transient population and easy transportation access, Arizona is a popular destination among sex traffickers. The U.S. Department of Justice has identified Phoenix as one of the top human trafficking jurisdictions in the country, according to the Arizona Human Trafficking Council. An estimated 78,000 men in Phoenix are customers of online sex ads, and 300-plus ads are placed daily on one area website offering adult services.
Some states, including Florida and Michigan, now require healthcare workers to receive some type of human trafficking training as part of their regular licensing process.
“Human trafficking is a global epidemic,” Sister McBride said, “And we must fight it locally.”