What can forensic nurses do to identify and respond to survivors of trafficking? We talked with our Clinical Nurse Manager, Erin Pollitt, to learn more about the role of forensic nurses in anti-trafficking initiatives and what is being done to improve the response.
As a Clinical Manager, you take on work beyond patient care. What is a project that you are working on that you are passionate about?
One of my goals since coming to DCFNE has been to increase our identification and response to patients who have experienced human trafficking. When I worked in Maryland, I helped the MD Human Trafficking Task Force to develop a medical screening protocol for identification of patients in healthcare settings. I hoped that I would be able to put my experience to use to help benefit people who have experienced this type of abuse here in Washington DC.
What interested you about working on an anti-trafficking initiative?
Trafficking is not just a global problem; there are people experiencing this form of abuse and exploitation right here in DC. We know that trafficking survivors often access health care services during the time of their abuse/exploitation. With proper training and increased awareness, we have the ability to identify and help people who may have otherwise went unnoticed.
How does trafficking relate to Forensic Nursing? What is the overlap?
Forensic nurses are in a unique position to be able to identify patients who have experienced trafficking. Patients that have been trafficked often seek medical care related to an incident of assault or violence. Many trafficking indicators mirror the same signs and symptoms of abuse that forensic nurses routinely assess. The forensic nurse is able to conduct a thorough and private assessment of each patient in a non-judgmental environment. We provide a safe environment that empowers patients to make choices regarding their own care, seek help and/or escape an abusive situation.
How is DCFNE addressing trafficking within the program, and what plans do you have to increase this response in the future?
We have recently connected with FAIR Girls, an anti-trafficking nonprofit here in DC, to provide education to medical professionals in the area. We continue to network with other organizations throughout the District in order to be able to provide the best resources we can for patients who report having been trafficked. We are in the process of developing a detailed response plan as well as education for our nurses related to the care of this vulnerable population.
What are a few things that healthcare providers can do to address trafficking in the healthcare setting?
These situations aren't always black and white. It's important for healthcare providers to keep an open mind. Look at the red flags in the context of the big picture. Indicators may be present when in fact, the patient is not actually being trafficked. If you feel like your patient may have been trafficked, ask questions! Screen them for abuse, but know that they may not disclose to you at that time.