Issues in the Spotlight: Human Trafficking in SWMO

On December 7, 2010, Ozarks Community Hospital hosted a “Human Trafficking Lunch & Learn,” with guest presenters from the nonprofit Legal Services of Southern Missouri. More than 80 community members, OCH staff members and providers gathered together to learn about a serious issue affecting the Ozarks.

In the following paragraphs, OCH psychologist Dr. Beatty offers insight from her profession and relays helpful resources offered through the “Human Trafficking Lunch & Learn” presentation. In sum, Dr. Beatty brings to light an issue she and many other OCH providers are highly passionate about.

A recent presentation at OCH by Legal Services of Southern Missouri brought to light the prevalence of human trafficking. Human trafficking is thought to be a crime that occurs in major cities and across international borders with the primary target being underage girls. However, there are cases where parents traffic their own children. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Missouri continues to be a leader in the fight against human trafficking and has prosecuted more trafficking cases than any other District in the United States. Recent cases include trafficking crimes in Blue Springs, Chillicothe, Branson and Kansas City, to name a few.

The definition of human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery although it is more accurately defined to include force, fraud, or coercion beyond sexual exploitation. Trafficking need not entail the physical movement of a person; however it does entail the exploitation of the person for labor or commercial sex. One fact often overlooked in human trafficking is that victims are literally enslaved and, unlike drugs, humans can be sold over and over again – thereby making for a potentially substantial and long-term source of profit and control. Once the mind of the victim is enslaved they begin to associate his/her self-worth to sex (or chosen method of exploitation) and in some cases may begin to view their abuser as their support system.  Coupled with distrust for law enforcement, this makes identification of the abused quite difficult. 

The identification of human trafficking victims includes, but is not limited to, evidence of being controlled, inability to move or leave a job, signs of battering, non-English speaking, and lack of identification documentation.  Traffickers commonly take away the victims’ travel documents and isolate them to make escape more difficult. Considering the obstacles to identify the victims of trafficking, to rescue them, and restore them to a normal life, it is imperative for everyone to be aware of the signs of trafficking.  This is especially true in the field of healthcare, where it is the job of providers to accurately identify disharmony within the human body.  Whether providing physical, mental or emotional treatment, an awareness of the signs of trafficking can only enhance the overall efficacy of the doctor-patient interaction.

The following are questions to ask to determine if an individual is a victim of human trafficking.

  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been threatened if you try to leave?
  • What are your working or living conditions like?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Have you been deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care?
  • Has anyone threatened your family?
  • Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?
  • Is anyone forcing you to do anything that you do not want to do?

Government agencies are beginning to recognize the prevalence of this crime and training for law enforcement personnel has increased. If you have identified an individual of human trafficking, there are several resources available including the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.3737.888. Websites that provide additional information on this subject can be found at http://www.justice.gov/usao/mow/community/humantrafficking.html or http://www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking/

Dr. Annie Beatty received her education and training through the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. She is certified in Civil and Domestic Mediation. Dr. Beatty works at both Ozarks Community Hospital and at OCH’s Christian County Clinic in Nixa, Mo. To contact Dr. Beatty, call (417) 875-4682 or call (417) 725-8250 to reach her in Nixa.

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