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Integrating Human Trafficking Education into Nursing and Health Policy

June 25, 2015

Thousands upon thousands of people are trafficked into the United States each year to work in the sex trade.  Many are seen each year by health care professionals, yet are not identified as victims of human trafficking because training on the subject is not yet mandated. 

Donna Sabella, PhD, director of the Office of Human Trafficking of Drexel University, presented Justice: Striving for Social and Economic Dignity at the American Nurses Association Ethics Symposium on June 5, 2015.  Her presentation dealt with social inequities using human trafficking as an example for integrating principles of social justice into nursing and health policy. 

Many in the audience had very little knowledge about trafficking, identifiers, risk factors, and policy. “Nurses are the last at the table for this issue.  It’s mainly driven by law enforcement and social workers,” Sabella said.  Nurses are required to take 30 credits every two years to keep their licenses current. “Many of the trainings have nothing to do with human trafficking, so it’s no surprise that health care workers aren’t informed.”  As an associate editor for the Journal of Human Trafficking, and a founding member of Dawn’s Place, a residential recovery program for trafficked and prostituted women in Philadelphia, Sabella would like to see that changed and to build a training course on human trafficking into the curriculum.  “We are now mandated to take a training course on child sexual abuse.  I think this could be something that the state board takes a look at.  We are seeing a rise in domestic minor sex traffic, which means American children being sent out to the streets and being used for sex.  I certainly think that fits very well into that.”

Sabella said the training doesn’t have to be very long. “We can do a training course in a couple of hours.  We can teach people some of the basics without sensationalizing it.”  Topics should include what human trafficking is, history, general information on the basic foundation, who is likely to be trafficked, risk factors, things to look for both psychologically and physically, and also about traffickers themselves: who might be a trafficker, what some of their background is.  Sabella would also like to cover steps to take when a nurse suspects someone has been trafficked, which questions to ask and not to ask. 

“Trafficking is very unethical.  It’s a crime anywhere.  We need to become better aware, be better informed, include training, focus on doing research, hold conferences to expand our horizons on what goes on in the rest of the world,” said Sabella.