HEMPSTEAD, NY—It can happen in any country and community. Victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Within the safety and comfort of our homes, it is hard to believe that human trafficking exists in our society and even in our neighborhood as participants learned at Northwell Health’s Third Annual Human Trafficking Symposium held on January 7, 2020, at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.
“Human trafficking is a social justice and human rights issue of our generation,” said Santhosh Paulus, MD, Zucker School of Medicine assistant professor and creator of the first Northwell Health Human Trafficking Response Program. “We need a coordinated response to this issue across all disciplines to give voice to those who are exploited physically and financially.”
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It can also include the removal and sale of organs. People fall prey to traffickers for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional distress, economic hardship, lack of family and social network, natural disasters, and political instability as addressed by symposium keynote speaker and internationally acclaimed anti-trafficking expert, Dr. PM Nair.
“We live in a world of exploitation, a world of demand,” said Dr. Nair, former Director-General, National Disaster Response Force & Civil Defense, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and an advisor to the United Nations (U.N.) Office on Drugs & Crime. “Once demand is stopped, we will stop trafficking.”
The symposium featured a variety of talks and workshops for health professionals that covered understanding the victim mindset, law enforcement strategies, caregiving for trafficking victims and survivors, and how our nation’s health care system can serve as a front line for identification and protection of those impacted by trafficking. To date, Northwell has trained more than 3,000 employees to identify, triage, and support victims of human trafficking in partnership with Restore NYC and has been invited to be a part of a United Nation’s cohort of U.S. healthcare providers to receive training on human trafficking and to collect data for a one-year pilot study to address victimization.
“Each site will receive training on how to develop individual protocols for screening and managing trafficking cases. We will then take the common denominators from the protocols at each site and form a policy to present to the World Health Organization that can be instituted globally,” explained Deborah O’Hara-Rusckowski, RN, MBA, MTS, delegate for the Order of Malta at the U.N. and spearhead for the U.N. Global Strategic Operatives for the Eradication of Human Trafficking which will announce its healthcare provider training-research initiative at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 30.
Amid escalated efforts close to home and abroad to save victims and halt human trafficking, the focus for millions of survivors is on sustainable recovery, including access to education and work experience, residential assistance, and access to support groups and services that promote healing, safety, and lifelong wellness.
“I was able to break away but still live in fear every day,” said Ricarda Diamond, a human trafficking survivor turned motivational speaker who was part of a symposium panel discussion. “For people like myself, who become victims of trafficking, the problem starts well before it happens. To clinicians, doctors, and nurses, I would say to pay more attention to our children. We need to allow our children to feel safe and free to talk about what is happening in and outside the home.”
Special thanks to New Life Community Health Center, Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island, Exploitation Intervention Project, NOMI Networks, Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk, Inc. (VIBES), Crime Victims Center, The Safe Center, the NYPD Detective Bureau, Cycle for Change, Northwell Health professionals, and exhibitors for support and help in raising awareness about human trafficking.