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Dignity Health hospitals in Arizona are training health care workers to identify and respond to victims of human trafficking. The Dignity Health Human Trafficking Response Program, which includes screening victims in emergency rooms and obstetrics departments, aims to combat an industry with tentacles growing in Phoenix.
Phoenix has been identified by federal authorities as one of the nation’s top human trafficking jurisdictions. “The average age of a teen entering the sex trade in Arizona is 14, and police have reported victims as young as 9.”
A training on September 7 hosted by Dignity Health, the McCain Institute, Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, and the Arizona Department of Homeland Security was held to educate medical residents about the high incidence of human trafficking in America. Medical professionals were given the latest statistics about the prevalence and severity of the epidemic, information about how to spot the signs of sex and labor trafficking in a health care setting, guidelines on when to report the situation and information about resources available to support the victim.
“It’s important for our medical residents and professionals to recognize when a patient may be a victim of human trafficking,” says Jeffrey Sugimoto, vice president of Academic Affairs at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. “By training hospital staff to identify victims, we can give these individuals the resources needed to help them safely escape the industry.”
Staff at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, Chandler Regional Medical Center and Mercy Gilbert Medical Center are trained to look for red flags that include homelessness, discrepancy between reported and apparent ages, lack of identification and a dominating or controlling companion who refuses to leave the patient alone. Once identified, victims are referred to community agencies for support and assistance.
With a tourism-driven economy, transient population and easy transportation access, Arizona is a popular destination among sex traffickers. The U.S. Department of Justice has identified Phoenix as one of the top human trafficking jurisdictions in the country, according to the Arizona Human Trafficking Council. An estimated 78,000 men in Phoenix are customers of online sex ads, and 300-plus ads are placed daily on one area website offering adult services.
Some states, including Florida and Michigan, now require health care workers to receive some type of human trafficking training as part of their regular licensing process.
“Human trafficking has become global epidemic and we must work to combat it on a local level,” says Holly Gibbs, a human trafficking survivor and now the director of Dignity Health’s Human Trafficking Response Program.
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