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Violence and human trafficking

Response program summary

We’re not healthy until everyone is healthy, and safe. We seek to strengthen community health for the common good. Imminent dangers require immediate actions. Human trafficking is a worldwide threat, with local impact on real families in our communities. We are equipped to identify and respond to critical threats in more places across the country.

The problem

Violence is an epidemic that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year and injures millions more (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). It devastates individuals, families, and communities, weaving a path of destruction that often perpetuates and multiplies due to its contagious nature. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence to include “neglect and all types of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse” [2002]. Violence is undoubtedly one of the most prominent public health issues of our time, and it is entirely preventable.

Trafficking in persons is a particular type of violence that is pervasive yet widely misunderstood. It affects every country, including the United States [United Nations, 2019]. In 2018 alone, there were 10,949 tips of human trafficking reported to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), 2,378 of which involved children under the age of 18 [NHTH, 2019]. Keep in mind, these numbers represent only those cases that were reported to the NHTH. Unfortunately, due to many misconceptions about this issue, trafficked persons often go unnoticed.

A 2014 study published in the Annals of Health Law found that nearly 88% of sex trafficking survivors had contact with health care while being exploited [Lederer and Wetzel, 2014]. A 2017 survey from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (Cast) found that over half of labor and sex trafficking survivors had accessed health care at least once while being trafficked. Nearly 97% of that group indicated they had received no information about human trafficking or related victim services during those encounters [Cast, 2017]. These studies underscore the reality that health care professionals are too often unprepared to identify and assist trafficked persons.

Every day, health care systems treat patients who face multiple issues of violence, including human trafficking. While a community may have resources to address various forms of violence (e.g., victim advocacy and support, emergency shelter and services, peer support and survivor mentors, etc.), all too often health care professionals may not be aware of or connected with such resources, leaving them unequipped to appropriately respond to patients who may be experiencing abuse, neglect, or violence. This gap leaves the patient and provider vulnerable to ongoing trauma, as providers who feel unequipped to connect victims with community-based violence response resources may also feel a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

We take a stand

CommonSpirit Health was created by the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) and Dignity Health in early 2019. As a single ministry, CommonSpirit is committed to building healthier communities, advocating for those who are poor and vulnerable, and innovating how and where healing can happen—both inside its hospitals and out in the community. CommonSpirit prioritized the alignment of two model programs: CHI’s Violence Prevention Initiative and Dignity Health’s Human Trafficking Response Program.

CHI heightened its commitment to building healthier communities in 2008 by launching a comprehensive national campaign to eradicate the epidemic of violence – this campaign was called “United Against Violence”. As the first violence prevention effort of its kind ever sponsored by a nonprofit health system, the initiative seeks to prevent violence using a multi-faceted strategy that includes public policy advocacy, shareholder advocacy, broad education and awareness initiatives, and community-based primary violence prevention programs. Understanding that no form of violence has a solitary solution, CHI employs a spectrum of actions to fully address the crisis of violence in all of its forms, including human trafficking. This program recognizes that it is the responsibility of health care systems to extend health care beyond patient care settings and to serve the needs of the broader community.

Meanwhile, Dignity Health, in partnership with Dignity Health Foundation, launched a program in 2014 to assist in the identification of trafficked persons in health care settings and provision of appropriate intervention support and services to affected patients. Through this program, the Human Trafficking Response Program, Dignity Health provides education to staff, physicians, volunteers, and contract employees about human trafficking and trauma-informed care and implements policies and procedures to guide staff on how to provide trauma-informed victim assistance to persons experiencing any form of violence, including human trafficking.

Together, these initiatives form CommonSpirit’s Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention and Response (VHTPR) Program, a new model for health care systems to comprehensively address multiple issues of violence. This aligned program will continue CHI’s national campaign titled “United Against Violence”. Prevention and intervention strategies, working together simultaneously, can eventually eradicate the scourge of violence that plagues society. CommonSpirit is poised to lead the way. Executive Sponsors are Kathleen Sanford, Chief Nursing Officer, and Colleen Scanlon, Chief Advocacy Officer.

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