Barrows had worked for years with the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, conducting short-term educational trips throughout Asia and Africa. Through a contact with the State Department, Barrows said, he was asked to do research into the health effects of human trafficking as it relates to the global spread of HIV and AIDS.
“The more I read, the more I was shocked,” Barrows, an obstetrician and gynecologist, recalled in an interview Aug. 23 after his Louisville lecture. Many people are still not aware, he said — and his fellow doctors can play a vital role in combating it.
“Of all the sectors within society, health care is one of the most likely to encounter these victims,” he said. Research indicates that a quarter to a half of trafficking victims encounter health care professionals at some point when they are enslaved, Barrows said.
Barrows spoke at Norton Hospital at the University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics Grand Rounds, a continuing-education lecture attended by about 160 students, doctors and other social-service and government representatives. Barrows spends his time educating health care professionals on the signs of trafficking and promoting the development of homes that help recovering victims. He is vice president of Abolition International, a group that works to end sex slavery.
Emergency-room staff and other medical professionals need to watch for the signs of trafficking, Barrows said — just as they have been trained on signs of domestic violence and child abuse.
“Getting the word out is part of the puzzle, getting the people to understand this is happening,” Barrows said. Otherwise, “they’ll encounter a patient and they’ll walk away saying, ‘Something strange is going on, but I don’t know what it is.’”
Warning signs, he said, include:
The victim being accompanied by a highly controlling person — who might even be a family member.
The body language of the patient indicating fear of the accompanying person.
Tattoos indicating a handler’s street name — often a brand of “ownership” by the trafficker.
Signs of abuse.
For sex workers, multiple sexually transmitted diseases.
For manual laborers, such injuries as back trauma or hearing loss.
The victim may also be unaccountably silent on some issues — such as why he or she waited until symptoms became severe to seek medical help.
CMDA Health Consultant on Human Trafficking Jeffrey J. Barrows, DO, MA (Bioethics) – “Dr. David McLario, a CMDA member, is on staff at Louisville Children’s hospital and made the arrangements for this presentation. He also did an excellent job organizing a symposium afterward to develop a protocol for their ED to respond to trafficking victims. His reward was encountering a patient the next day who, with further investigation, may turn out to be a victim of trafficking.
“Consider following his example by learning about trafficking and developing a strategy to respond. Every healthcare professional working with patients needs to be educated on human trafficking. Limited studies show between 28 to 50 percent of trafficking victims encounter a healthcare professional while being trafficked.
“CMDA has an excellent educational resource available online at cmda.org/tip. It’s even free if you don’t take the available CME credits. If you need assistance in developing a response strategy, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
CMDA human trafficking page
Action Take the CMDA education course, optionally with Category One CME credit, on human trafficking.