CEDAR RAPIDS — A series of circumstances in Amber Causey’s personal life, including abusive family relationships, led her to be homeless in Chicago at age 16.
It was then she met the man who coerced her into human trafficking, until she was about 17. During her ordeal, the now-29-year-old Iowa City resident said she came into contact with health care professionals — however, no one recognized her as a victim.
“I was taken by ambulance and I’m in this environment with doctors, police officers, nurses and no one’s treating me like a victim,” Causey said in an interview with The Gazette. “It was more like, ‘You’re a prostitute, you put yourself in this situation.’”
In Causey’s situation, no one in that emergency room was there to offer her help.
Kristina Glackin said she also was labeled as a prostitute after she escaped from her ordeal when she was 18-years-old. She had been confined in a Las Vegas hotel room for seven days and forced into sex work.
She said it took time, and a lot of faith, before she came to terms with what had happened to her.
“We just have to break down the barriers and see people as victims because I never identified as a victim either,” Glackin said. “I didn’t know what human trafficking was … . I always held that on me because nobody came and said, ‘This isn’t right what’s happening to you, you are a victim.’ No one let me know that.”
Teresa Davidson said that while some health care facilities have the capabilities to identify victims of human trafficking, hospital staff often lack the necessary training to offer them help.
Davidson plans to make sure that doesn’t happen in Cedar Rapids.
She has been named as Mercy Medical Center’s anti-human trafficking coordinator, a new role that Mercy says is the first hospital-based position of its kind in the state. Davidson will be maintaining the role in a part-time capacity in addition to her role as a nurse practitioner in Mercy’s neonatal intensive care unit.
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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud or coercion of a person to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.
Some international organization estimates there are millions of human trafficking victims worldwide. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline — a crisis hotline and resource center for victims and survivors of human trafficking — there were more than 8,500 cases opened by law enforcement in 2017.
The hotline reports it has taken 1,044 calls that refer to Iowa since 2007, which led to 271 cases opened by law enforcement. In 2017, the hotline received 218 calls that led to 74 cases.
Hospitals have a key role to play in combating human trafficking, advocates say, as research has shown individuals do access health care while being trafficked.
A study published in 2014 by the Annals of Health Law found that nearly 88 percent of sex trafficking survivors reported some kind of contact with health care professionals while being exploited. Sixty-three percent of those individuals have that contact through emergency rooms across the United States.
Davidson’s goal is to not only identify hospital patients who may be victims or survivors of human trafficking, but also to establish response protocols hospital staff can use to help them safely leave the situation.
“Basically, what I’m going to help hospitals do — I’m going to do at Mercy first, and then to our local community and then out to the rest of the state — is to create a response team that is able to interview a person they think might be involved in human trafficking in a trauma-informed, human trafficking survivor specific way,” she said.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline states that there is no single profile for trafficking victims, as they have “diverse socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented.”
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In the past, hospital staff training has focused on how to identify these victims of human trafficking.
However, Davidson said this training only serves part of the purpose. These professionals need to know how to help the 88 percent of trafficked victims who interact with health care professionals, and she hopes a coordinated response team will help bridge this gap.
“That’s just a huge opportunity to help,” Davidson said.
Davidson, who has been in the coordinator role for a month, said the response team will serve as advocate for the victim or survivor until another aid organization can take on the individual long-term.
This can include helping her or him move to a safe location, find housing or obtain identification.
New protocols and staff training will take place in Mercy’s emergency room, as well as its birthplace, pediatrics and behavioral health departments.
“Here, we really want to create a space that even if they’re not ready to leave, they can come back and they know if they come back that they can get help,” Davidson said.
Davidson also is the executive director of Chains Interrupted, a Cedar Rapids-based not-for-profit that aims to combat human trafficking, and a member of the Iowa National Anti-Human Trafficking Board.
Davidson hopes eventually to offer training to other hospitals across the state. So far, she said she’s heard from 15 hospitals around the state looking for training.
l Comments: (319) 368-8536; firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to get help
l National Human Trafficking Hotline — 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733
l National Human Trafficking Resource Center — humantraffickinghotline.org