Human trafficking (HT) is a burgeoning problem of global proportion with a recent report showing that there are over 40.3 million victims worldwide with over 70% of victims being women and girls and 25% of victims being under the age of 8. HT is a $150 billion dollar industry, representing the second largest stream of income for organized crime. It has also been identified as a global public health problem. Existing research demonstrates that there is a significant need for the screening of possible human trafficking victims in an acute care environment such as the emergency department.
Several studies demonstrate that most victims may not have access to primary healthcare and their first contact may be emergency department. By some estimates, 28%–87% of HT victims have some contact with the health care system and approximately 60% of them will present to the emergency department (ED) at some point during their exploitation. However, only less than 5% of ED physicians feel confident in their ability to
identify a trafficked individual. The cited reasons for such prevalence-diagnostic disparity include the oft-nebulous presentation of HT victims, health professionals’ limited awareness of HT symptoms and a confusion of the role of the care provider towards HT patients in a high paced acute care environment.
The objective of this article is to briefly examine the literature on the need for improved diagnostic strategies for human trafficking in the emergency department as well as to explore possible avenues for future research into improving such prevalence-diagnostic gap.