BRONX– According to the International Labour Organization’s estimate in 2017, 4.8 million people worldwide, mostly young women, are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a time to generate awareness for a world-wide problem that physicians, educators, law enforcement officers and parents in particular need to be vigilant about.
According to Dr. Kanani Titchen, director of the Adolescent Health Center at SBH Health System (St. Barnabas Hospital) in the Bronx and co-founder of Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans (PATH), a national organization whose mission is to educate health care providers, many of these individuals come from similar backgrounds.
“Many people trafficked for sex are young and vulnerable and have few resources,” said Dr. Titchen, who lectures throughout the country on this subject.
“Traffickers prey on this trust and the teen’s very normal desire for love and acceptance and family. Often, traffickers offer a boyfriend experience but then work to convince the teen that if she really loved him, she would agree to have sex with his friends. Sometimes, the teen may be trying to help out his or her family financially. And yes: boys are trafficked, too.”
Dr. Titchen works with trafficked youth not to “rescue” them, but to offer much needed trauma-informed medical care. She says that while many victims of sex trafficking are vulnerable teens from broken and hurting families and are likely to have a history of sexual abuse and/or time spent in the child welfare system, trafficked youth may also come from circumstances less expected – such as a middle class or religious family.
Recognizing the physical and behavioral signs of sex trafficking are key, she says. They include but are not limited to:
A history of multiple pregnancies or a concerning ob/gyn history, possibly including multiple sexually transmitted infections.
Dollar signs, names of the trafficker, or even barcodes tattooed on the body.
Signs of substance use.
A history of truancy, lack of hospital follow-up, or frequent disappearance from home
An inability to speak for themselves (with a third party insistent on being present).
Somatic manifestations of stress including irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, migraines, depression.
Personal items too expensive for their overall socio-economic status.