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Training Helps EMS Workers Identify Human Trafficking Signs

Posted: Nov. 8, 2018

One of the most effective ways to counter and prevent human trafficking is through the training of health and public safety workers. Training helps workers to correctly recognize and react to signs of human trafficking when interacting with the public.

EMS workers are well-suited to help counter human trafficking. They are often in contact with the most vulnerable members of the public and already have the needed interviewing skills to identify likely trafficking victims.

EMS workers and human trafficking awareness

A research study1 published this year looked at how familiar EMS workers were with human trafficking and their attitudes toward it. The research team found that:

  1. Less than half of surveyed EMS workers have received human trafficking training.
  2. EMS workers who received training were much less likely to believe common myths about human trafficking, such as only immigrants are trafficked and that it must always include physical force.
  3. Trained EMS workers were more likely to suspect human trafficking.

Human trafficking in the United States (2017)

  • Over 26,000 calls to law enforcement and other organizations related to human trafficking.
  • Almost 9,000 reported cases.
  • Women and children were the primary victims.
  • Sex trafficking was the most common form of trafficking.
Study takeaway: Trained EMS workers can better recognize the key signs of human trafficking.

Content to include in EMS training

To address knowledge and awareness gaps, the research team recommended the following content be included in human trafficking training for EMS workers:

Legal definitions

Legal definitions of human trafficking are needed to remove any doubt about what it is.

Local awareness

An overview of the area's human trafficking statistics so that EMS providers know the extent of the problem.

Who is at risk

Anyone can be trafficked but the most vulnerable populations are:

  • Women.
  • Children.
  • Recent immigrants.
  • Children who are homeless or are in the child welfare system.
  • Individuals with substance abuse or mental health issues.
human traffickers and a child

Children are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.

Trafficking types

There are multiple types of human trafficking — such as human organ trafficking — but the two most common ones are labor and sex trafficking.

How people fall victim to human trafficking

Victims are lured, recruited or trapped through fake job ads, fraudulent travel agencies, and false promises.

How people are controlled after falling victim

  • Threats to relatives.
  • Violence to themselves.
  • Drug addiction.
  • Threats of deportation.
  • Confiscation of passports or personal identification.
  • Debt bondage.
  • Imprisonment.

Common trafficking settings

The most common settings to find trafficking victims are:

  • Door-to-door sales crews.
  • Restaurants and bars.
  • Nail salons.
  • Domestic labor.
  • Food processing factories.
a restaurant server with her boss

Restaurants are a common setting for trafficking victims.

How to ask questions and listen

Due to their trauma, the victims may seem unresponsive to questions, show anger, and they may even display an unusual loyalty to their traffickers. EMS training should include techniques on how to ask gentle, nonjudgmental questions and how to listen carefully and understand victim responses in the context of possible trafficking.

Recognition of trafficking signs

  • Tattoos of names or bar codes on victims that indicate ownership of a trafficker.
  • Intentional scarring on victims.
  • People unable or not allowed to speak for themselves.
  • People not carrying any personal identification (because the traffickers are holding it).
  • Bruises, broken bones and malnutrition.
identification cards, woman with bruised face, and a tattoo

No identification, bruises and tattooed markings are all signs of human trafficking.

Free online training available to EMS providers

What EMS Need to Know About Human Trafficking

The research team created an interactive training course on human trafficking for EMS workers. You can complete this free course to earn a certificate of training from the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State University.

For more information on human trafficking

This video uses a car crash scenario with responding EMS to present indicators of human trafficking.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Learn more about this research

Summary information for this article was provided by the NETC Library. You can find this article in our library.

Blue Campaign resources

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign strives to protect the basic right of freedom and to bring those who exploit human lives to justice. Resources provided by the Blue Campaign include free awareness training for first responders.

1Donnelly, E., Oehme, K., Barris, D., Melvin, R. (2018). What do EMS professionals know about human trafficking? An exploratory study. Journal of Human Trafficking, 13 Aug 2018

This summary is for informational purposes only. As such, the content does not reflect any official positions, policies or guidelines on behalf of the sender, the U.S. Fire Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, nor any other federal agencies, departments or contracting entities. Similarly, this summary does not represent in any manner an official endorsement or relationship to any private or public companies, organizations/associations, or any authors or individuals cited or websites associated within the article.

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