Health Matters: The ER safety net for human trafficking victimsUpdated: Oct 23, 2013 11:00 AM EDT
FORT MYERS, FL -
Working in the ER, nurse Shay Watson has seen just about everything. She has had suspicions that some of her patients were also victims.
"We have seen patients with burn injuries or arm injuries or maybe a broken bone. A lot of them have gastro problems where its nausea vomiting or GYN issues and that is kind of a tip," says Shay Watson, ER nurse with Lee Memorial Health System.
"A number of very significant cases in Lee County, in Southwest Florida have occurred in Lee hospitals," says Nola Theiss, Executive Director of human trafficking awareness partnerships.
Nola Theiss leads a group, which focuses on human trafficking.
"Human trafficking is modern day slavery. It doesn't imply that you're moved to place to place, although that often happens. The statistics are only 1-3% are abducted. And 30% are abused some way through their family, through people they know," says Theiss.
Hospitals are where the two worlds sometimes collide. The emergency room provides an opportunity for victims to move from oppression and abuse to safety and security
Because they're on the front lines, emergency room staff nationwide are learning to spot trafficking victims. Female and male sex slaves and labor slaves. Theiss recently conducted training sessions at Gulf Coast Medical Center.
"If a young girl is being treated for pregnancy or birth and there's no support system other than a very controlling person that's a sign. Often the girls don't know where they are. They don't know their address, that kind of thing," says Theiss.
Another sign is a literal mark of ownership- a telltale tattoo.
"Some of them say ‘daddy' or a dollar sign, the bar code," says Watson.
It can happen and it does. Watson and her co-workers have intervened several times.
"We have just this gut feeling we go with. But we have that one chance or one opportunity to tell them we're here we can help you if you need it," says Watson.
It's about seizing the moment to save or change lives.
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