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Nurses Ideally Positioned to Identify Our Country’s Many Sex Trafficking Victims

September 12, 2013

What business is generating more revenue than Starbucks, Nike and Google put together? Human sex trafficking, a chilling new article reveals. “Many people think sex trafficking happens only in third-world countries, but it’s also pervasive in the U.S.,” writes author Cynthia Saver, RN, MS. An advocacy group called the Polaris Project estimates that 100,000 children are involved in sex trafficking every year in the United States.

Donna Sabella, PhD is the Director of Global Studies at the College of Nursing and Health Professions and is also Director of the Office of Human Trafficking at Drexel. When asked about why young girls (most U.S. victims are females between the ages of 12-14 years-old) get involved in sex trafficking, Sabella responded, “They get involved because it’s an opportunity to make some money. They may also need money for an addiction.” Victims often don’t leave out of fear. “The pimps say they’ll hurt them, their family or their children,” she told

The article, “Trading on innocence,” explores steps that nurses and other health care providers can take to identify the victims, report abuse and contribute to patient recovery. “Nurses are in a prime position to identify possible victims of sex trafficking when they seek medical treatments in the ED, free clinics, physician offices and other locations. But too often those opportunities are missed,” the article reads.

Sabella says that nurses should expect a variety of responses if they encounter an apparent sex trade victim; some may not accept help immediately or ever, and many will not say ‘thank you’ to nurses who are trying to intervene. She recommends that nurses provide victims with as many resources as possible, including the national hotline number.

Some victims are not in a position to leave their pimp immediately, especially if he has made targeted threats or warnings. “One woman went home because her pimp said he would kill her dog,” she told “She came back the next day with the dog.” Nurses can lay the groundwork to help victims leave abusive situations at a future time by suggesting strategies and by providing phone numbers for hotlines, hospitals and hotels.

The care of sex trade victims is something that should be included in every nurse’s basic education, Dr. Sabella said. In addition to leading Drexel’s Office of Human Trafficking, contributing to articles such as this one, and teaching courses on the subject at Drexel, Sabella also has regular speaking engagements. She was delighted to learn that the Emergency Nurses Association invited her to speak at their annual conference in Nashville next week about human trafficking and what emergency nurses need to know.