A survivor of child sex trafficking who will share her story during this afternoon’s Irvin M. Cushner Memorial Lecture says that victims of human trafficking are most likely as close as your waiting room.
“Medical professionals are likely to be coming in contact with victims, whether they’re recognizing them or not,” said Holly Austin Gibbs, Patient Care Services Program Director at Dignity Health, who today advocates against all forms of human trafficking and child exploitation.
Today’s presentation focuses on the basics of human trafficking, with an emphasis on explaining exactly what it is and dispelling the common myths about trafficking in order to identify and help victims who come in contact with the health care system.
Gibbs, who joins Wendy Macías-Konstantopoulos, MD, MPH, to deliver this year’s Cushner Lecture at 3:40 pm in Ballroom ABC, said that a 2014 study in the Annals of Health Law found that 88 percent of survivors reported having some type of contact with the health care system. But Gibbs has found that what was true for her as a 14-year-old in 1992 remains true today: Health professionals need more knowledge about human trafficking.
“My interaction with health care and other professionals such as law enforcement were either very negative, or I could tell that they wanted to help or weren’t quite sure how to go about helping,” Gibbs said. “That’s absolutely what drives my passion because I had so much experience with professionals who were trying to help me and there were not specialized services.”
Gibbs now works with Dignity Health in educating staff and developing protocols at more than 30 hospitals in Arizona, California, and Nevada. She started speaking out and sharing her experiences in 2009 and later became a consultant with AMBER Alert and a presenter at law enforcement, social service and medical conferences. Before joining Dignity Health, she wrote the book “Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery.”
Dr. Macías-Konstantopoulos, an Attending Physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine and Assistant Professor in Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School, will talk about what human trafficking looks like in the United States and who are the victims and perpetrators.
“There are certain risk factors which heighten a person’s vulnerability, but anyone can be a victim of trafficking,” she said. “There’s no stereotypical profile of someone who’s trafficked, so we really need training to recognize the red flags in patients we may come across in the health care setting.”
Obstetricians and gynecologists have a great opportunity to help fight human trafficking, in particular sex trafficking, in a role similar to the one they played in identifying and combating intimate partner violence, said Dr. Macías-Konstantopoulos, who for the past decade has conducted training and research while helping to inform policies about human trafficking.
“There’s this idea that human trafficking involves movement across country borders or state lines, and actually it doesn’t necessarily involve movement,” she said. “It can be a 15-year-old girl who’s plucked out of school and trafficked in her own neighborhood. So there’s a misconception that it’s not happening here.”