Yesterday, we introduced the topic of human trafficking and what a pregnancy center can do to help fight this global epidemic. Today is part two of our discussion on human trafficking and pregnancy centers.
Watching for specific signs of human trafficking, or “red flags” is crucial.
“There are three major categories of indicators,” Dr. Jeffrey Barrows, director of U.S. training for Hope for Justice, an international organization dedicated to ending human trafficking and slavery, said. “The first is indicators of control. The controlling person will control the conversation … they will be in a hurry and usually somewhat demanding.
“The second is simply strange red flags. Things will seem very strange or unusual. The client will not be able to give a clear, concise history. They may not be able to give an address. They may not even know what city they are in at the time since they are moved so commonly.
“The third category is physical signs. This may include evidence of poor hygiene… poor nutrition, bruising due to physical trauma or other obvious physical injuries.”
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An estimated 87 percent of trafficked victims have had contact with a health care provider while being trafficked. Those providers can include pregnancy centers. Barrows, as well as Laurey Nelson, founder and coordinator for Orlando-based Boundless Human Trafficking Awareness and Advocacy, and Jamie Chavez of the Wyoming Attorney General’s office encourage pregnancy center staff to learn the warning signs of sex trafficking and to listen for words that may be indicators.
A few red flags include a woman who:
- Is under 18
- Appears fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, and/or paranoid
- Appears fearful or anxious after bringing up law enforcement
- Avoids eye contact
- Appears malnourished
- Lacks healthcare
- Shows signs of physical/sexual abuse, restraint, confinement, or torture
- Is not in control of her finances, has no bank account
- Is not in control of identification documents (driver’s license or passport)
- Has tattoos/branding on the body
- Has inconsistencies with her story
- Uses slang terms, such as “daddy” for boyfriend and “the business” for occupation
Several of those red flags went up last year at an anonymous pregnancy center in the Midwest. According to the director, her staff was alerted to a specific type of tattoo linked with human trafficking in their area during an in-service training session. Within a few weeks of that training, a woman came into the center with a tattoo matching the description, which the client advocate noticed.
The center’s receptionist took down the license plate number of the person who had come to the appointment with the woman, and a call was made to local law enforcement. Though both the patient and her “cousin,” left before she followed through with her ultrasound, the police were able to catch up with the “cousin,” leading to an eventual break-up of a local human trafficking ring.
While a pregnancy center’s staff may hope to free a woman from human trafficking on their own, Nelson cautions against direct action in such cases. A center in her area bought a plane ticket for a woman who had become pregnant while she was being trafficked.
But, within a few weeks, she was back. The woman’s pimp had beaten her until her preborn baby died, putting her in the hospital in the process, and later sent her back into the industry. Nelson encourages centers to work with law enforcement and safe houses and let them and the victim’s services agencies help women escape.
“That was a wake-up call,” Nelson said. “Education is key. We have the mind of Christ and want to help [but] the human trafficking issue is very complicated, and if we intervene simply with compassion and not wisdom, we can actually do more harm than good and put a woman's life in danger.
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“I have cards that have help numbers listed, and we can give them to the woman as well as offer her contact with a local victim advocate if she is ready to get out of the life,” Nelson added. “We let [women] know that we are here for them and ready to help them take the first step in restoration when they are ready.”
As recent break-ups of human trafficking rings have made headlines, the issue has come to the forefront of discussions involving social justice. Along the way, the increased spotlight on the blight of human trafficking has helped more everyday citizens become aware of the signs associated with human trafficking.
Still, as Barrows points out, “there is … much work to be done.”
“I don’t think it’s a taboo topic anymore,” Nelson said. “It really reaches across all socio-economic spheres. There has been more education and exposure via social media, news outlets, billboards and print that are bringing the issue to light. People are outraged by the injustice of sexual exploitation and are wanting to know what they can do to help.”
The blight of sexual exploitation of youth often finds itself on the doorsteps of pregnancy centers. Human trafficking is the modern version of slavery. It’s real, and it happens in places large and small. Through prayer, vigilance and training, pregnancy centers can be soldiers for Christ on the forefront of this battle and work with other agencies to rid their community of this pestilence, one person at a time.
Heartbeat International offers a webinar on this issue here.
Another online course, which is free and specific to healthcare providers, can be found here.
Learn what some organizations are doing to help combat human trafficking and the sex trade at these sites:
Find out about red flags for human trafficking here.
Talk to your local law enforcement agency or state attorney general’s office about training for your center’s staff.
Report human trafficking concerns to your local law enforcement agency or contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or texting BeFree (233733).
Find additional resources here.