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We need to train EMS and Fire more on Human Trafficking clues

In early February of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced that it is again taking several actions to raise awareness about human trafficking and how to recognize and prevent this crime, as it works to combat human trafficking in the transportation sector.

America’s transportation systems are commonly used to facilitate human trafficking and other crimes with bus lines being the most common. There has been great efforts made to train and teach bus drivers and other transportation system officials on how to recognize the signs and clues of existing human trafficking.

These signs or clues may include individuals that appear not to have the freedom of movement or social interaction, appear not to have control of their travel identification or documents, are controlled or unusually submissive to their traveling companion, seem coached when speaking to authority or law enforcement, have no logical means of reaching their final destination, are traveling on a last-minute booking paid by someone else in cash, or may be dropped off by one vehicle only to be picked up moments later by another.

In my experience, these clues can be difficult to detect but others are almost too easy and can cause for uncomfortable experiences. I recently was speaking to a young girl who was preparing to board a plane. Her “father” was sitting next to her and was overly protective as I struck up the conversation. I asked her if she was going on a vacation or if she was going home. She was quite shy but after a moment she told me she was going home and answered a few more questions although she kept looking at her “father” who was considerably older for having such a young girl for daughter. Her glances were beginning to lead me to believe that she was almost asking permission to answer questions which had me concerned.

After a few minutes I directed my questions to the father. It was then that I discovered that the girl’s mother (his wife) had passed away the year prior quite suddenly and that the two were on a healing trip vacation together. Once the father opened up the girl did as well and we ended up getting to know each other quite well, sharing pictures and even joking around together.

It could have gone quite another way.

I remember a car accident scene that involved a man in his forties and a young girl in the front seat of an older sedan. The sedan had been struck from behind and the sedan had been disabled. When I checked on the two, the girl appeared to have a large knot on her head but the “father” seemed more concerned with calling a tow truck so they could get on his way.

Something was off. When it was suggested by State Patrol that the girl have her head looked at, the man became quite nervous and again brought up the tow truck.

After a brief conversation away from the scene with State Patrol, the man was removed from the vicinity of the girl and it was discovered that she was not his daughter but rather a kidnapping victim.

While the USDOT puts forth massive efforts to educate and create awareness, I put forth that our responders nationwide need to be pounded with educational programming and trainings on how to recognize the signs and clues of human trafficking. Each and every day firefighters, law enforcement and EMS are on the scenes where emotions are running high and “family” dynamics are on display. While I believe law enforcement is relatively well-trained (or getting there) when it comes to this issue, how many more situations could be caught of firefighters and EMS were given the same training?

Our job as responders forces us to interact and gives us the freedom to ask questions PROPERLY. Sometimes a life can be changed by how we re-word a question at an accident:

“Are you okay? Are you hurt? We will take care of you and your mommy right away!” is a closed end.

“I am going to check you out to make sure you are okay and that man over there is going to make sure…is that your mommy?” opens the door to ask another question.

The organization Truckers Against Trafficking claims their success is because they are the “eyes and ears of the road” which I will not dispute, but that makes local EMS and fire the eyes and ears of the streets and homes.

It is sad, but the truth is no matter where you serve, small town or big city, human trafficking is everywhere. It has become an incredibly (and unbelievably) lucrative business.

With the interaction between EMS, Fire and the public, it should be easy to spot some of the signs that others may miss. After all, we are in people’s homes often times even though we are not welcomed or invited. We are around their vehicles. We are on their property.

How many times in your responder career have you seen someone living with their employer in a back apartment attached to a business? How about multiple people living in a cramped space? On a scene where someone else kept answering questions for the victim even though there was no language barrier? Answered stories about the injury or situation as if they had memorized the answer? Showed signs of physical abuse or had a demeanor like a “whipped puppy”? Overly submissive to someone else in the house?

All of these are signs or clues that there could be human trafficking afoot. Afraid to bring it up? It takes but a moment for local law enforcement to determine who is who and where they belong. If you are wrong, you can go to sleep tonight knowing you were alert and you did your job. If you don’t ask and you were right…

As responders, it is quite possible that we are where nobody else COULD be and we are treating an injury that does not even compare to the real problem the victim has. We could make a difference.

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