When we think of trafficking, we generally think of drugs or weapons, not human beings.

But, the problem of human trafficking exists in numerous communities where EMS responders deliver care.

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means for an improper purpose.” But, a more succinct definition comes from Kathryn Brinsfield, MD, MPH, Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Homeland Security: “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.”

Human Trafficking by the Numbers image - chart

What can EMS do?

Why is this so important in today’s EMS field? We are the first on scene, we are the ones invited inside where others are not and we are the ones who see an injured person’s environment. Thus, our interactions with others can help us spot some of the tell-tale indicators of human trafficking.

Unfortunately, human trafficking occurs for many reasons:

  • Domestic Slavery – Bringing people into private homes to work as slave labor, with no options to leave.
  • Sex Trafficking – Forcing children, men and women into the commercial sex industry.
  • Forced and Bonded Labor – Forcing people to work under the threat of violence for no pay — often to repay a debt — without the ability to leave.
  • Forced Marriage – Forcing women and children to marry another against their will and without their consent.

As an industry, there is much that EMS can do to fight human trafficking. Therefore, we must keep our ears and eyes open, and report things that raise red flags in our minds. Some of the most common indicators we will see as emergency responders are:

  • Signs of abuse, wounds or bruising in various stages of healing or malnutrition.
  • Scars or mutilations, including tattoos showing ownership.
  • Language or cultural barriers preventing injured persons from communicating with you.
  • Submissive or nervous appearances.
  • Security measures like overly hardened doors or windows preventing movement of people.

Resources to consult

DHS has a great educational sheet with additional indicators of human trafficking to look for: click here for a printable copy. While a particular situation may turn out not to be what you suspect, report your suspicions regardless so trained law enforcement experts can evaluate the situation. Your hunch may save a life or multiple lives. Call Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) or online at www.ICE.gov/tips. You can also receive additional training on our sister site, continuingeducation.com.