NEW YORK NURSE: October/November 2008
Barbara Glickstein believes that nurses can play a key role in stopping modern-day slavery. She brought that message to RNs gathered for the NYSNA annual meeting in September.
“Many more nurses are becoming aware of this issue,” she said. “We often are on the front lines when victims of human trafficking present at emergency rooms or clinics. We need to know how to identify them and what to do.”
A New York state law increasing the penalties for various forms of human trafficking took effect in January 2008. In the following eight months, Glickstein said, only one person has been indicted under the new law – a Queens man who held a 16-year-old girl captive for 18 days and forced her into prostitution.
“There are laws at both the state and federal levels, but they are not enforced,” Glickstein said. According to the National Organization for Women, the state has allocated only $450,000 toward implementing the law. The U.S. State Department estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 people are brought into the country every year for involuntary servitude.
Victims of forced prostitution or other types of labor often are hiding in plain sight. “When you see them in the healthcare setting, they may be seeking to terminate a pregnancy or treatment for battering injuries such as broken jaws or bruises,” Glickstein said. Other signs may be evidence that they are being controlled: an inability to move or leave their jobs, fear or depression, and lack of a passport or immigration documentation.
Nurses should use careful questioning if they suspect a patient is being held against his or her will. As in cases of domestic abuse, direct questioning may frighten victims into silence. If the patient does not speak English, RNs should enlist the help of a staff member who speaks the patient’s language and understands the patient’s culture, keeping in mind that any questioning should be done confidentially.
“Do not threaten to call the police,” Glickstein said. “Have current referral information on hand such as the phone numbers for police, shelters, and hotlines. It’s safer for both the nurse and the patient to use these resources.” She urged her audience to analyze their communities for referral information as part of their “primary prevention.”
For more information on human trafficking in New York State and what you can do as a healthcare professional, visit the website of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition at www.stophumantraffickingny.org or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site at acf.hhs.gov/trafficking.