UW Women's Center

Stakeholder Analysis – Johnna White

How to Engage Health Care Providers in the Identification of and Response to Human Trafficking


Human trafficking is a complex and pervasive industry that brutalizes children, men and women both in Washington State and around the world. In particular, Washington State is known to be a hub for human trafficking because of its geographic location and high demand for agricultural labor, an industry plagued by human trafficking.

Washington’s health care professionals are in a unique and power position to identify and respond to human trafficking because they are one of the few people who have the opportunity to interact with victims alone while they are in captivity. However, they are not utilizing this position to its full potential; currently, there is no formal curriculum to train medical professionals to identify a human trafficking victim or survivor, nor are there guidelines for how to appropriately and safely respond if they suspect a patient is a victim of human trafficking.

This study draws on data collected through: in-person and over-the-phone semi-structured, open-ended interviews; conference proceedings; and a data set provided by the Washington State Department of Commerce.

The purpose of this study was to assess what the most effective way to engage the health care community is, in an effort to increase identification of and provide resources to human trafficking victims who are presented in health care centers. In order to do so, this study performed a stakeholder analysis to learn:

1. Where and for what conditions victims of human trafficking are being brought to health care centers;

2. What are the current policies and practices used in King County Health Care Centers to identify and appropriately respond if human trafficking is suspected; and

3. What do service and health care professionals believe to be necessary for a successful training model?

All interviews were conducted with health care professionals, such as an Emergency Department physician and representatives from local service providers, such as those within the Washington Anti-trafficking Response Network. Data collection from conferences included remarks made by human trafficking survivors who reflected on their experience with the health care community prior to escaping their trafficker.

Study results supported anecdotal suspicions that human trafficking victims in Washington State are interacting with the health care community at a greater frequency than is being reported to service providers. Additionally, it confirmed that there is no formal curriculum to train health care providers to identify and act when they suspect human trafficking in their practice. Therefore, this study recommends the implementation of the following tools and guidelines to effectively increase awareness about human trafficking within the health care community and to appropriately and safety respond when human trafficking is suspected:

  • Develop a model protocol for health care centers that is adapted from existing assault protocols and best practices;
  • Include training in medical and nursing school curriculum;
  • Create train-the-trainer model;
  • Pursue a multi-pronged approach to training: venue and audience (physicians, nurses, social workers, etc.);
  • Emphasize non-sex forms of labor trafficking;
  • Mitigate language barriers;
  • Specialized physicians and nurses; and
  • Present a unified message at conferences, public forums, and clinic trainings.

With proper training, health care providers are well poised to identify and provide countless victims with an opportunity to escape and live safe, productive, and fulfilling lives away from their trafficker(s).

For the full report, click here to download.