Human Trafficking: ED Nurses on the Front Line

With human trafficking remaining a nationwide, multibillion-dollar criminal industry, the ED is one of the few places where the lives of trafficking victims intersect with the general population. As such, emergency nurses have a unique opportunity to help victims. 

“Survivor-led statistics are making it obvious that trafficked persons are being seen in the emergency department setting, but we are not equipped as a profession to adequately identify and help these disadvantaged people,” said Steven Donahue, co-leader of a deep-dive session at 10:15 a.m. today. “This session is about giving emergency nurses much-needed educational training in order to recognize and treat human trafficking victims.”

Steven Donahue

Donahue said victims rarely receive preventive care for medical needs and are typically brought to the ED when their conditions begin to hurt their economic value to their traffickers.

“One recent study surveyed hundreds of trafficking victims and found that 88 percent reported they received medical care during their captivity. Of those, 63 percent had been seen and treated in a hospital emergency department,” he said. “We have been lucky enough to meet trafficking survivors and hear their stories. When survivors speak about their interaction with health care workers, they often discuss that they wish their doctor or hospital had done more — or anything — to help them. We want to change this.”  

Human Trafficking Emergency: A Comprehensive Training for Emergency Department Personnel

10:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.


Room 304

The session will be led by Donahue and Michael Schwien, emergency nurses at Main Line Health outside of Philadelphia. Topics will include statistics, myths and misconceptions, health implications and presentation characteristics, vulnerable populations, red flags and clinical markers for identifying possible victims, trauma-informed care and discussing the human trafficking hotline.

“Health care professionals must understand that the lack of education in health care creates a disparity for victims of trafficking,” Schwien said. “This disparity leads to trafficking victims not receiving the appropriate resources and referrals they need. Hospitals can be a place to empower the individual in making steps toward getting them safe.”

Donahue and Schwien will be joined by Diane Horn, assistant district attorney from Delaware County, Pennsylvania, with the special victims unit. She will discuss current legislation and legal definitions regarding trafficking, reporting requirements for ED personnel, recommendations for charting in order to assist law enforcement, prosecution process for traffickers, legal process for survivors and an example of trafficking within Pennsylvania.

Victim advocate Joy Medori will lead the “In Her Shoes” experience. This interactive activity provides participants the opportunity to place themselves in the shoes of a trafficked person and make decisions based on what the participant would do if they were placed in similar situations.

Donahue and Schwien will provide details on how they successfully implemented a human trafficking protocol within their health system.

“We hope that at the end of this training session, not only will participants be able to better identify and treat victims, but they will be supplied with the tools necessary to distribute education to their coworkers and become change agents at their own hospitals,” Donahue said.