Human trafficking is a complex and multifaceted problem that takes the form of economic, physical and sexual exploitation of people, both adults and children, who are reduced to simple products for commerce. Human trafficking in the United States also has both a domestic and an international aspect. Health care providers are in a unique position to screen for victims of trafficking and may provide important medical and psychological care for victims while in captivity and thereafter. Trafficked persons are likely to suffer a wide spectrum of health risks that reflect the unique circumstances and experiences in a trafficked victim’s life. Although trafficked victims typically have experienced inadequate medical care, once contact is made by the victim with the health care professionals, the opportunity then exists to identify, treat, and assist such victims. The range of services and supports required to appropriately respond to human trafficking victims once identified is broad and typically goes beyond just what is immediately provided by the health care professional and includes safe housing, legal advice, income support, and, for international victims, immigration status related issues. An informed and responsive community is necessary to serve both the international and domestic victims of human trafficking, and needs assessments demonstrated a number of barriers that hindered the delivery of effective services to human trafficking victims. One of the consistent needs identified to combat these barriers was enhanced training among all professionals who might come in contact with human trafficking victims. We highlight the efforts of the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition (HRRC), a local grassroots non-profit organization whose mission focuses on raising awareness of human trafficking in the Greater Houston Metropolitan area. HRRC responded to the consistent recommendation from various community needs assessments for additional training of front line professionals who would have the opportunity to identify human trafficking victims and supported the design and pilot testing of a health professions training program around human trafficking. Dissemination of this type of training along with careful evaluation and continued refinement will be one way for health care professionals to engage in a positive manner with human trafficking victims.

Key Take Away Points

  • Health care providers may be one of the only professionals who interact with human trafficking victims during their exploitation so those in health care, if trained appropriately, may be able to identify human trafficking victims and offer them necessary services and supports.
  • The needs of human trafficking victims are wide ranging and may go beyond the immediate health care issues identified by the health care providers, so multidisciplinary efforts are typically necessary to meet the full set of needs that either an international or domestic human trafficking victim may require.
  • Enhanced training in the multifaceted nature of human trafficking is often necessary to combat the barriers that professionals and organizations face as they seek to provide effective services and supports to human trafficking victims.

Author Biography

Reena Isaac, M.D. completed her pediatric residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and her Child Abuse (Forensic) Pediatric fellowship at Brown Medical Center in Providence, Rhode Island. She is currently Assistant Professor of Pediatrics with Baylor College of Medicine and is a consulting physician on Texas Children’s Hospital’s child protection program and a staff physician for the Harris County Children’s Assessment Center’s medical clinic. She is medical director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program at Texas Children’s Hospital, and is a physician advisor for Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition.

Jennifer Solak graduated from Louisiana State University in 2000 and worked as a Program Coordinator for Tulane Law School and the Eason-Weinmann Center for Comparative Law for two years. Jennifer then attended Tulane Law School, during which time she worked as a summer associate with various firms, including Bradley, Arant, Rose & White in Birmingham, AL; Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston, TX; and the Kullman Firm, a labor and employment based law firm in New Orleans, LA. In addition, Jennifer served as a research assistant to Prof. A. N. Yiannopoulos and clerked with the United States Attorney’s Office. Upon graduation, Jennifer worked as an associate with the Kullman Firm, and moved to Houston in 2006 to accept a clerkship with the Honorable Mary Milloy on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Most recently, she served as senior staff attorney at CHILDREN AT RISK, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children across Texas through strategic research, public policy analysis, education, collaboration, and advocacy.

Angelo P. Giardino is the medical director of Texas Children’s Health Plan, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, the Associate Chief for Academic General Pediatrics, Research, Texas Children's Hospital, an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, an attending physician on the Texas Children’s Hospital Child Protection Team and a member of the forensic pediatrics service at the Children’s Assessment Center in Houston, Texas. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a member of the Academic Pediatrics Association and Texas Pediatric Society where he serves on both the Child Abuse and Neglect Committee and the Children with Disabilities Committee. His academic accomplishments include publishing several textbooks on child abuse and neglect, presenting on a variety of pediatric topics at national and regional conferences, serving on several national boards including the Board of Directors for Prevent Child Abuse America, the National Advisory Board of the Institute for Safe Families and the Advisory Board for Justice for Children.