HEADLINES Published April15, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Doctors Need Training to Spot Sex Trafficking Victims

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A protest against sex trafficking.
(Photo : Oli Scarff, Getty Images )

Physicians and other healthcare providers do not have the training to recognize if a patient is a victim of sex trafficking. Many do not realize that they are missing identifying these victims, according to a study.

Healthcare professionals such as obstetrician/gynecologists, emergency room personnel, doctors who specialize in adolescent health, and anyone who works with the victims of child abuse are likely to see patients who may be the victims of sex trafficking. This is because victims of sex trafficking are likely to have health problems such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and injuries caused by violence.

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee received responses on a survey from 168 healthcare providers, including physicians, nurses, physician assistants, social workers, and patient advocates in rural, suburban, and urban settings. The respondents were given several clinical vignettes to analyze; 48% correctly identified a child who was a victim of sexual trafficking and 42% correctly distinguished a sexual trafficking victim from a victim of child abuse.

Sixty-three percent of the respondents said they had never been trained to recognize a victim of sexual trafficking. The healthcare professionals who had been trained were more likely to say that sex trafficking was a problem in the area where they practiced. They were also more likely to say they had treated a victim of sex trafficking and to have confidence that they would be able to identify one.

One of the drawbacks to this study was the low percentage of respondents from the 500 healthcare professionals contacted for the survey. The people who did respond were mostly women.

Training healthcare professionals to identify the victims of sex trafficking and those who are at risk of becoming victims can help bring the size of the problem to light and can also help minors who have become victims. If a healthcare professional identifies a minor as a victim of sex trafficking, he or she is mandated by law to report it.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

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