Working Together to Combat Human Trafficking

Alicia Shields, MSN, RN, CENP, CAHTA

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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking is such a large problem that one field cannot combat it alone. Healthcare facilities, the authorities and the faith-based community must all work together to combat human trafficking. All three entities must come together to identify and support victims as well as help them heal. At GCU, students in the pre-licensure and RN-BSN nursing programs are exposed to human trafficking red flags and how to assess for victimization.

Human Trafficking is a real issue impacting cities and towns all over the United States and all over the world. It is estimated that 40.3 million people were in modern slavery in 2016 (International Labour Organization, n.d.). Women are impacted at a higher rate than men and about one quarter of the victims are children (International Labour Organization & Walk Free Foundation, 2017). The average age of children who are victims of trafficking is fifteen (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, n.d.).

How Can Nurses Help Identify Human Trafficking Victims?

It is reported that up to 88 percent of trafficking victims receive healthcare while they are being trafficked (Polaris Project, 2018). Nurses and providers are crucial in assessing and identifying women, men and children who are being trafficked. One challenge that medical professionals face is that they do not know what to do if they have a patient who is being trafficked. Often trafficking is not even something nurses and doctors have on their mind while assessing patients. It really needs to always be in the back of our minds because it is happening and it is likely that we could come in contact with a patient who may be a victim of trafficking.

Sex Trafficking Happens All Around Us

Many people do not realize how prevalent human trafficking is or what industries use victims. Often people think if they are watching pornography in their own home or going to a strip club that it is innocent enough and they are not harming anyone. What they do not realize is that they are fueling the industry. The human trafficking industry is a supply and demand industry and the greater the demand, the greater the supply. Though there are some people who chose to work in the adult entertainment industry, some are forced.

There are victims of trafficking in adult films as well as dancing in strip clubs. Strip clubs are actually a popular training ground for women who are being trafficked. The traffickers take women to strip clubs to dance so they can get used to being naked in front of people. They are also taught by the other girls how to be more comfortable naked in front of others.

How to Identify Human Trafficking

What does this mean for us as nurses? It means that we are the perfect people to bring the law enforcement, healthcare and faith-based communities together to combat human trafficking.

The first step is for nurses to learn the red flags and always be on the lookout for trafficking victims. We then need to educate others in our facilities how to recognize signs of trafficking and who to contact if we suspect trafficking. Many of us are part of the faith-based community. We each need to work with our churches to start educating the members of the church about trafficking, the dangers of pornography and strip clubs and how the church can get involved.

Some red flags that one should we aware of when it comes to identifying victims of human trafficking include:

• The person is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense or nervous and paranoid.

• They exhibit unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement or immigration officials.

• Shows signs of substance use or addiction.

• Shows signs of physical, sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement or torture.

• The person is frequently monitored.

• Is not in control of money or identification.

• Cannot clarify address or where they are staying; may make claims of visiting.

• Is living and working on site.

These are just a few of the many signs of sex trafficking. More can be found at the Human Trafficking Hotline website.

Ultimately, even if you are not called to work in anti-human trafficking efforts you can learn the red flags and know how to assess patients to determine if there is a high likelihood that they are a trafficking victim. You can also learn what resources are available in your area so you are prepared if you discover that one of your patients is a victim of trafficking. If you suspect human trafficking you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BEFREE (233733).

These are just a few of the possibilities you can pursue with your Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Grand Canyon University. Visit our College of Nursing and Health Care Professions website and click on the Request More Information button. Our online admissions application is waiting for you.


• International Labor Organization. (n.d.). Forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking. Retrieved from

• National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. (n.d.). Child sex trafficking. Retrieved from

• National Human Trafficking Hotline. (2020). Recognizing the signs. Retrieved from

• Polaris Project. (2018). Report: On-ramps, intersections, and exit routes: A roadmap for systems and industries to prevent and disrupt human trafficking. Retrieved from

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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