by Theresa Trombley, LCSW
In last month's newsletter, you read about human trafficking that is happening here, in the US, in our own backyard. The first time I learned about human trafficking, my immediate reaction was to ask "What can I do to stop this?" I was in high school at the time, so my resources were limited, but I began to ask questions and learn more about the realities of human trafficking and about what I could do to contribute to a solution.
As time went on, I decided that I wanted to become a social worker. Once I finished school, I started working in a community mental health agency, where I was also given the opportunity to become certified in Primary Care Behavioral Health, and began working in the local community health center. As I became familiar with working in a medical practice, I noticed the connection that many of the patients had to their primary care doctors and the other staff. It was evident that the primary care setting provided unique opportunities for the staff to interact with patients on an individual, personal level.
Medical professionals often have unique access to victims of human trafficking, because of the nature of their jobs. Human trafficking is often "hidden in plain sight", and as a result, it is very challenging to identify and prevent. However, according to a recent "Annals of Health Law" report, 88% of sex trafficking survivors reported that they had interacted with a medical provider.
In 2012, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons developed a strategic action plan to address and improve gaps in the identification, treatment, and prevention of human trafficking in the United States. The task force was made up of members of many different federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Homeland Security. As a result of this collaboration, the strategic plan addressed discrepancies and areas of improvement across many different professions, agencies, and programs.
One of the major sections of the strategic plan was focused on enhancing and improving training for professionals in a variety of fields (medical providers, educators, domestic violence treatment providers, etc). The goal of these improvements was to provide professionals with the knowledge and resources to identify human trafficking and respond appropriately.
One outcome of this strategic plan has been the "Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond (SOAR) to Health and Wellness Act of 2018" (H.R. 767). This legislation, if passed, would provide training for healthcare professionals to help in identifying potential human trafficking victims, referring them to appropriate services, and providing them with medical care specific to their needs.
In February 2018, the US House of Representatives passed the SOAR Act. This is a major step, but the bill is currently awaiting approval in the Senate. Here's where you come in.