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EMS Responders Trained to Spot Victims of Human Trafficking

EMS responders are now getting training that goes beyond the routine sick calls—they’re being educated on how to spot victims of human trafficking. The training is part of a broad outreach by the Department of Homeland Security to eradicate human trafficking, which is estimated to affect 12.3 million people globally.

“If you see something, say something,” says Rick Patrick, acting director of Workforce Health and Medical Support at the Office of Health Affairs in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “It really goes to the heart of suspicious activity reporting—all responders, all citizens. If something doesn’t seem right in any situation, you should say something.”

Indeed, a group of paramedics in Honolulu recently underwent the training, making them the latest in a growing number of EMS responders trained to combat human trafficking. The training teaches EMS responders what to look for and how to identify warning signs.

According to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of State, 12.3 million human trafficking victims exist around the world, with less than 1% identified as such. Many are in forced labor situations, Patrick says. An estimated 56% of them are women. Overall, the DHS estimates human trafficking represents a $32 billion annual trade.

Earlier this year, as part of its going education outreach, the U.S. Fire Administration reported that approximately one-third of human trafficking victims are treated by medical providers. “Similar to observing patients for signs of abuse, fire and EMS responders should be aware of the signs of human trafficking,” the organization said in a training program.

The DHS also has an educational program to help first responders identify signs that patients may be victims of sex trafficking, such as The DHS provides extensive resources online for emergency responders, including warning signs and educational videos. 

“The initiatives are geared at anybody within the community of public safety and public health who interacts with every aspect of human society,” Patrick says.

The DHS has a three pronged approach: prevention, protection and prosecution, Patrick says. “EMS providers deal with all levels of society in their time of need. Some situations have unusual circumstances that go with that. If the EMS provider recognizes some of these signs [of human trafficking], they can maybe save a life.”

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