EMS Insider

The Blue Campaign

Federal government asks EMS for help in identifying human traffickers

More than a year ago, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano launched the “Blue Campaign,” a nationwide initiative to combat human trafficking through enhanced public awareness, victim assistance programs, and law enforcement training and initiatives. DHS is hoping that paramedics and EMTs will join the fight this fall to help identify victims of human traffickers.


“It’s disturbing to see how big of a problem this is,” says William Seifarth, MS, NREMT-P, EMS program manager, First Responder Coordination at DHS. He calls it modern slavery.


“There are more people enslaved today, in terms of population, than ever before in history and [the U.S. is] not immune to it,” he says. Nor is the problem confined to a single area of the country.


The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as a person exploited against their will through forced labor. It includes sex trafficking. Unlike human smuggling, the people involved do not want to be there.


An estimate 12.3 million victims are enslaved throughout the world. Although 56% are female, most are trafficked for forced labor rather than sex. Many are in debt bondage, forced to into domestic servitude or work as agricultural or industrial labor.


Human trafficking is big business. Profits for human slavery are estimated at $32 billion annually. Many times, the profits help fund terrorism.


The Blue Campaign got its name from the “thin blue line” of law enforcement, as well as the global anti-human trafficking symbols of the U.K. Human Trafficking Center’s Blue Blindfold and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime’s Blue Heart. The effort is a multi-pronged approach that includes law enforcement, air marshals, the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. EMS can help by joining hospitals, firefighters and physicians to identify victims during 9-1-1 responses.


Seifarth says the DHS is sensitive to the level of education requirements of EMS providers. However, because the presentation of a human slave is similar to that of an abused or neglected patient, it could be included with that training.


“If we truly are patient advocates, we need to do this. Not doing something is an ethical and moral issue,” he says. “EMS can play a vital role.”


The signs of human trafficking include:

  • Bruises in various stages of healing caused by physical abuse;
  • Scars, mutilations or infections due to improper medical care;
  • Urinary difficulties, pelvic pain, pregnancy or rectal trauma caused by working in the sex industry;
  • Chronic back, hearing, cardiovascular or respiratory problems as a result of forced manual labor in unsafe conditions;
  • Poor eyesight and eye problems due to dimly lit work sites;
  • Malnourishment and serious dental problems; and
  • Disorientation, confusion, phobias or panic attacks caused by daily mental abuse, torture and culture shock.

If a case of human trafficking is suspected, EMS personnel should report it to law enforcement or call 866/347-2423. Tips can also be made anonymously. All tips are investigated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.


Indicators of Human Trafficking:

  • Is the victim in possession of identification and travel documents; if not, who has control of the documents?
  • Was the victim coached on what to say to law enforcement and immigration officials?
  • Was the victim recruited for one purpose and forced to engage in some other job?
  • Is the victim’s salary being garnished to pay off a smuggling fee? (Paying off a smuggling fee alone is not considered trafficking.)
  • Was the victim forced to perform sexual acts?
  • Does the victim have freedom of movement?
  • Has the victim or family been threatened with harm if the victim attempts to escape?