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National Human Trafficking Awareness Month

  • What do you know about human trafficking?  
  • Did you know that human trafficking occurs every day and people who are experiencing human trafficking visit all sorts of health care providers?  
  • Learn all about the nurse’s role in human trafficking awareness for National Human Trafficking Prevention Month! 

Sadia Arshad


December 20, 2022
Simmons University

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This is a time to educate oneself on the prevalence of trafficking and how to be vigilant in detecting the signs of trafficking as nurses. 

According to the United Nations, human trafficking is an illegal activity that involves the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” 

There are millions of people nationwide who are currently being trafficked, and they come from all walks of life. In fact, health care facilities and nurses play an integral role in human trafficking detection and awareness. 


human trafficking awareness month 2023

What is Human Trafficking?

Unlike a health condition like diabetes or cancer, human trafficking is not detected via a test or bloodwork. Human trafficking is often missed in several public settings, including health care settings, because of pre-conceived notions about what someone who is being trafficked looks like.  

It is important to note that anyone can be human trafficked, including adults, children, and the elderly. Also, trafficking can look differently and take many forms, such as those involved in sex work, the drug trade, or modern-day slave labor. 

Since there are many types of trafficking and many ways people can get trafficked, nurses must realize that there’s no one face of human trafficking.  

Historically, people who have experienced human trafficking have often been women and children, immigrants, and those who do not have financial means. However, anyone can be subjected to violence, manipulation, and coercion and end up in the cycle of human trafficking.  

Now, with more evidence-based research, there are more best practices to identify those who might be experiencing human trafficking, to provide care for those who are or have been trafficked, and to advocate for patient safety. 

Signs and Symptoms of Human Trafficking

Common signs and symptoms of someone who is being human trafficked include: 

  • Confusion 
  • Emotional outbursts 
  • Bruises in different stages of healing 
  • Chronic body aches  
  • Recurrent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) 
  • Branding tattoos 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Substance use 
  • Malnourishment

It is important to note that many people who have been human trafficked will present with similar symptoms of those who have experienced trauma since human trafficking is a major trauma.  

Many people who have been human trafficked might attempt to minimize their signs and symptoms for fear of being caught or having law enforcement involved.  

If people are left in their human trafficked state, permanent psychological distress, extensive physical injury, or death can occur.  

Because of the varying clinical presentation, a detailed health history and assessment is needed. 

human trafficking awareness month 2022

The Nursing Role in Human Trafficking Awareness

It is important for health care professionals to ask themselves if they are comfortable performing a human trafficking screening and providing trauma-informed care 

Talking about violence, abuse, or trauma can be a challenge. Nurses play a critical role in identifying patients in unhealthy living situations since they often provide extensive education and assessment with patients.  

Ways for nurses to take an active role in human trafficking awareness include:  

  • Providing educational materials in discrete locations, such as bathrooms 
  • Addressing any concerns patients have about their health 
  • Assessing patients in a private space 
  • Taking a human trafficking awareness course 
  • Offering routine human trafficking and domestic violence screening 
  • Discussing with nursing management on any efforts at the workplace for both patients and staff to provide human trafficking screening services and trauma-informed care 
  • Working with social services to establish continuity in a patient’s plan of care

Some evidence-based organizations that can provide you with the latest information and patient education tools on human trafficking awareness and trauma-informed care include:  

If you suspect that someone is a trafficking victim and are unsure how to proceed, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline: 1-888-3737-888. 

The Bottom Line on Human Trafficking Awareness Month

National Human Trafficking Awareness Month is a reminder to nurses about the role they play in detecting such henious acts.

Nurses are one of the most trusted professions for a reason, so victims must be able to trust that the nurse can act accordingly and in a non-judgemental manner.

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