Human Trafficking Victim Identification and Response Within the United States Healthcare System


Human trafficking, a modern form of slavery, is a complex problem affecting virtually every aspect of society including the healthcare system. The healthcare industry and medical societies have made great strides in addressing human trafficking. While medical societies and healthcare organizations have created policy statements or guidelines regarding identification and treatment of victims, there are still large gaps.

Major challenges exist in identifying which patients are really victims of human trafficking. While questionnaires and screening instruments exist, little research has been conducted to determine the feasibility and validity of these instruments. Without valid screening instruments to identify victims, it is impossible to fully understand the prevalence of human trafficking in healthcare settings. As demonstrated by all reviewed studies, screening instruments can have a high probability of identifying patients who are truly victims of human trafficking. However, these instruments also have false positive rates that range from 20 to 50 percent of those screened. The high false positive rates make screening programs in healthcare settings more expensive, since as many as half of those who screened positive would have unnecessary follow-ups by social workers or law enforcement.

It was found that human trafficking education for healthcare providers is highly variable and virtually nonexistent for safety and security professionals working in the healthcare system. There is a need to build a body of evidence-based programs for healthcare providers and security professionals working in healthcare settings (Powell, 2017). Training programs and educational resources are critical to changing the way healthcare identifies, assesses, and refers trafficking victims. It is likely, though, that training in and of itself is not sufficient for healthcare organizations to have an impact. Healthcare organizations must develop supportive policies and procedures that are tailored to their context and environment. Safety and security professionals should be an integral partners in the development of these policies.

Healthcare organizations must have the appropriate resources to respond to the needs of trafficking victims. Trafficked persons have a high prevalence of complex health needs, but they may not have access to insurance or resources. It is important for the organization to have established clear policies, guidelines, and protocols on how to respond to human trafficking. Clear policies can prevent situations that may place the patient or provider in potentially harmful situations. Healthcare organizations can play a critical role in advancing the goal of reducing human trafficking and ending the suffering of victims.


G.A. Tortolero graduated with a Bachelor of Science in epidemiology from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2018. G.A. Tortolero is currently s graduate student at The University of Texas School of Public Health Houston with a concentration in epidemiology. The author has expertise in geospatial analysis, mental health epidemiology, cancer control disparities, and infectious disease control.


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