At a time when our nation’s two political parties don't often agree on much, they recently came together to agree on this: The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress earlier this month and was quickly signed into law by President Trump. At Providence St. Joseph Health, our values call us to stand up for victims of human trafficking. That’s why we were proud to support the passage of this important anti-sex trafficking legislation.
Every day, an estimated 30 million women, children and men are the victims of human trafficking all over the world, including right in our own backyard. Exploitation in the form of forced prostitution and domestic servitude have been reported in all seven of the states served by Providence St. Joseph Health.
For many victims of sex trafficking, their only contact with outside professionals is when they face a serious medical issue and have no choice but to be taken to an emergency department or clinic. That makes health professionals a critical lifeline, and it’s the reason why Providence St. Joseph Health has made it a priority to do our part to end what Pope Francis calls a "crime against humanity." We are not only reaching out to victims directly but also seeking justice for them by working with officials at every level of government to find ways to support victims and help them escape to a better, safer life.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, which has rallied Catholic health care organizations around the country to help break the chains of human trafficking. In our conversation, she discusses the important role health care professionals play. By being alert to the signs of exploitation and knowing how to broach the topic with potential victims, we can intervene and connect them with authorities and resources that can help them break free and start over.
Traffickers have mastered sneaking victims into bars, hotels and other venues, Sr. Carol said. They have even turned the Super Bowl into a major sex trafficking event, bringing women and children forced into prostitution into the cities that host the game and its many out-of-town sports fans. "But they have not mastered the hospital, particularly the emergency department, and we need to capitalize on that in spades," she said.
It's similar to what the health care profession has done to intervene when we see signs of child abuse. "I used to work in a children's hospital, and I always said the emergency department and schools are the two groups that are in the best position to identify signs of child abuse and do something before there's a catastrophic injury to a child," she said.
Now, we need to do the same for victims of sex trafficking. They are among the most vulnerable individuals in our communities, and often times, we as health care professionals are their only way out.