Human trafficking crisis drives Delaware hospitals to create victim care guidelines

No universal policy or safety program exists for Delaware hospitals encountering human trafficking victims, prompting hospital leaders from across the state to develop screening guidelines to identify and treat these victims, according to the Delaware News Journal.

Here are five things to know:

1. Human trafficking victims are usually young girls and women who visit a hospital's emergency room due to an overdose, attempted suicide, being beaten or diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. They typically do not have an ID and could be accompanied by a man. They may also be wearing clothing that is inappropriate for their age or exhibit some sort of branding, according to the report. Since 2007, Delaware has reported 74 cases of human trafficking, including 21 cases last year, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

2. A 2014 survey of 100 human trafficking survivors found 88 percent had some sort of contact with a healthcare professional in ERs or hospitals. In most situations, healthcare professionals didn't realize they were screening human trafficking victims.

3. To address this problem, the Delaware Healthcare Association, which represents every health system across the state, formed a committee tasked to create a series of screening questions to better identify human trafficking victims. The committee contains one representative from most hospitals in the state, as well as two physicians from the Medical Society of Delaware. The group is piecing together the best protocols taken from Delaware health systems to create a universal policy for identifying human trafficking victims.

4. The committee's guidelines will include recommendations from the CDC and the nonprofit Hope for Justice, which both highlight a trauma-informed approach to care for human trafficking victims, according to Robert Varipapa, MD, a neurologist at Dover, Del.-based Bayhealth Medical Center and a representative of the Medical Society of Delaware who sits on the committee.

5. Local clinicians told the Delaware News Journal they believe the screening guidelines could be rolled out within a year.

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