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Human trafficking: Raising awareness and identifying trafficked persons in health care settings

This article is featured in the 2018 edition of the Reporter, Q3 and is available as a CME course.


According to the FBI, human trafficking is the third-largest criminal activity in the world.1 A form of human slavery, human trafficking is an estimated $32 billion a year industry that affects approximately 20.9 million people annually.2,3,9 However, due to the illegal and hidden nature of this crime, exact numbers of trafficked persons are difficult to determine.

Within the United States, human trafficking has reached epidemic proportions. Interstate Highway 10 which links the western and eastern coasts from Santa Monica, CA to Jacksonville, FL, and goes through Houston, TX, is one of the most trafficked highways in the nation. An estimated 1/5 of trafficked persons have traveled on this highway.2, 4

To help understand the scope of the problem, Polaris, a non-profit organization that works to combat human trafficking, has created a heat map of the United States that reflects human trafficking “hot spots” throughout the nation. When looking at the heat map, it is apparent that human trafficking exists in almost every state, with great concentrations on both coasts and in the Great Lakes area, Florida, and Texas. The map is available on the Polaris website at

It is also reported that between 66-88% of human trafficking victims access the health care system and interact with health care providers during their captivity.6 Therefore, there are significant opportunities for health care providers to offer potential resources and pathways to freedom for trafficked persons.

View the entire article as well as sources used in the Reporter, Q3 2018, pages 2-13. Remaining sections include:

  • Defining human trafficking
  • Understanding the power dynamics of human trafficking
  • Human trafficking versus domestic violence
  • Health care and human trafficking
  • Warning signs
  • Patient safety and environment
  • When and whom to contact
  • Reporting cases and connecting patients to resources
  • Proactive protocols
  • Trauma-informed approach to health care and human trafficking
  • Dos and don'ts
  • How to approach an exam with a suspected victim of human trafficking