May 14, 2018
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Leadership Internal Medicine
Photo by Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio.
(This article is excerpted from Capital Public Radio.)
When Marie was being sold for sex throughout California, she was rarely away from her pimp. Even when he wasn’t physically confining her, she was frightened he was watching or listening.
Marie, a 27-year-old who asked to be identified by her middle name for safety reasons, was first exploited by an older man when she was 16. She was traded between pimps and forced into sex work for nearly a decade.
She said visits to the women’s health clinic were her only chances at escape, but providers never tagged her as a trafficking victim. They just gave her antibiotics to treat the bladder infections she contracted from frequent sex work and sent her on her way.
“You have to go to the doctor — that is one safe place,” she said. “They don’t have badges.”
Victims may be more comfortable talking to a nurse or doctor than a police officer. Though trafficking has historically been seen as a law enforcement issue, clinics and hospitals are starting to play a role in identifying and helping victims.
Advocates say it’s on medical professionals to take action. A 2014 survey of sex trafficking victims found that 88 percent had contact with a health care provider at some point while being trafficked.
But Marie said even at the clinic, she was too scared to say anything about her situation. Her pimp had total control over her. He would starve her if she wasn’t making enough on the streets, clobber her if she didn’t look the way he wanted her to. She recalled being too afraid to run, and unsure about how she would survive on her own even if she did.
“It’s manipulation,” she said. “Control the body, control the mind. So you physically control the body by hitting, beating. … My son’s dad broke me in a way I have never been broken, and I guess he was really pimpin, cause I knew I was being controlled, but I couldn’t really do anything about it.”
Dr. Ron Chambers, a family physician with Dignity Health, is trying to prepare the next generation of doctors for situations like Marie’s. His South Sacramento clinic is one of few in the state where staff are specifically trained to identify and treat sex trafficking victims. It’s also one of the only residency training programs with a trafficking curriculum.
Read the full story, "Most Sex Trafficking Victims See A Doctor At Some Point. Experts Say Clinics, Hospitals Can Help End The Abuse."