ATLANTIC CITY — Last year, a registered nurse in Pennsylvania was able to identify a victim of human trafficking because of what she learned during a symposium in the resort.
“The whole time, he wouldn’t leave her,” Sharon Brenizer, of Camp Hill, said of the man who had escorted a woman to the emergency department at Holy Spirit Hospital. “She turned out to be listed as a missing person.”
Brenizer was among the dozens of health care providers assembled Friday morning during AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s 21st annual Trauma Symposium at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City for a presentation on human trafficking.
John D. Hunt, AtlantiCare corporate director of safety and security, and Atlantic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Danielle Buckley explained how human trafficking works and what red flags to look out for in patients.
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Human trafficking — the trade of humans for the purposes of forced labor or sex — is a $150 billion-per-year industry, and those are conservative figures, Hunt said.
“At some point or another, you’re going to come in contact with a victim of human trafficking,” Hunt said. “Understand you may be the only opportunity they have, and understand that they’re not going to see you and go, ‘I’m going to just tell you about my life.’ That’s not how it happens.”
Trafficking victims could come into a hospital or doctor’s office for any number of reasons, from assault, prenatal care and routine checkups to mental health services and addiction treatment, Hunt said. And 87.8% of victims report having contact with a health care provider while they are being trafficked.
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However, of the almost 5,700 hospitals across the U.S., only 60 have a plan for treating patients who are being trafficked and 95% percent of emergency room personnel aren’t trained to treat trafficking victims, he added.
Asking the right questions, like what type of work they do, whether they’re being paid and whether they could leave their job if they wanted to are all ways for providers to figure out whether their patient is a victim, according to the state human trafficking website, which Hunt had blown up to poster size and positioned around the room.
They also can look for patients who don’t speak on their own behalf, instead looking at an “uncle” to speak for them, bruises or other signs of physical abuse, and fear or depression.
“They do not self-identify as a victim,” Buckley said, ”which makes it even more imperative that we are aware and we are looking because they don’t believe that they are worth any more than a piece of property, which is what’s been drilled into their head.”
For weeks, Michelle Kaighn thought her daughter might be dead.
Atlantic County was the second in the state to attain a human trafficking conviction with Donnie Bethea’s 2015 guilty plea to using threats of violence to force seven women into prostitution. Buckley walked the audience through the case, explaining the fear, force and coercion involved in trafficking cases.
In February, El Joshua, 36, of Mays Landing, was charged with human trafficking, allegedly using violence against three adult women in his Pearce Road home to make them engage in prostitution and domestic servitude.
Joshua was recently indicted, court records show. His post-indictment arraignment is scheduled for Monday morning.
Currently, the county leads the state with 15 human trafficking indictments, Buckley said, as the human trafficking industry grows.
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“Think about it. It makes sense,” she said. “You sell a bag of dope once. You sell a woman, or a victim, over and over and over again. There is a lot of money to be made, because they can be sold sometimes seven, eight, nine times a day.”
Brenizer said attending the presentation for the second year brought some closure for her, learning from Buckley that the cases they report do get investigated, and she offered some advice for other health care professionals who weren’t able to come.
“Keep your eyes open and pay attention,” she said. “Because they’re trying to speak to you, just non-verbally.”