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Van De Putte: Doctors, Nurses Can Help Prevent Human Trafficking

Texas Senator Leticia Van De Putte co-hosted a human trafficking health summit today.
KUT News
Texas Senator Leticia Van De Putte co-hosted a human trafficking health summit today.

“Understand that human trafficking is very, very profitable. You can sell drugs or a gun only once. You can sell a human 12 times in one day.”

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and those words from Texas State Senator Leticia Van De Putteunderscore the gravity of the problem. Van De Putte co-hosted a summit on Human Trafficking this morning, focused on how health providers can identify and assist victims. The affected can include anyone from young runaways coerced into sex work and prostitution, to American immigrants promised work but essentially bound into slavery.

Van De Putte spoke to KUT News, addressing the role health providers can play and dispelling some common assumptions about what trafficking actually is and who it affects.

“Texas really leads the nation in the top and toughest laws where it comes to enforcement,” Van de Putte says. But she adds that an emphasis on treatment of trafficking victims can help free many of their entrapment.

Today's Human Trafficking Health Summit featured several health care professionals as speakers. One speaker was Dr. Patricia Crane who succinctly identified two main roles health care providers can play: identifying victims when they’re in captivity, and caring for their mental and physical issues once they’re free.  

Crane’s journal paper “Human Trafficking: What is the Role of the Health Care Provider?” was also given to participants.  It identifies several ways for doctors and nurses to identifypotential victims, including indicators like the presence of a controlling third party at the time of examination, signs of physical abuse and more. The paper also includes several screening questions to ask, including whether a patient is in the present situation of their own free will, or whether they would be harmed if they tried to leave.

Van De Putte emphasizes that doctors and nurses can make a difference. “If you have a teenager two or three times at the clinic, repeatedly, you may suspect to ask the question, ‘Honey, are you having sex willingly?’”

One myth Van De Putte seeks to dispel is that trafficking occurs outside the United States, or exclusively among new immigrants to America. (Indeed, the definition of trafficking doesn’t even require the transport of a victim from a city or state.) “The majority of our human trafficking victims are teenagers, from Texas or other states,” she says.

For more information and to help, the Not For Sale campaign offers numerous resources to combat human trafficking.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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