Human Trafficking: A Guide to Identification and Approach for the Emergency Physician

Ann Emerg Med. 2016 Oct;68(4):501-508.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2016.03.049. Epub 2016 Apr 26.


Human trafficking is a significant human rights problem that is often associated with psychological and physical violence. There is no demographic that is spared from human trafficking. Traffickers maintain control of victims through physical, sexual, and emotional violence and manipulation. Because victims of trafficking seek medical attention for the medical and psychological consequences of assault and neglected health conditions, emergency clinicians are in a unique position to recognize victims and intervene. Evaluation of possible trafficking victims is challenging because patients who have been exploited rarely self-identify. This article outlines the clinical approach to the identification and treatment of a potential victim of human trafficking in the emergency department. Emergency practitioners should maintain a high index of suspicion when evaluating patients who appear to be at risk for abuse and violence, and assess for specific indicators of trafficking. Potential victims should be evaluated with a multidisciplinary and patient-centered technique. Furthermore, emergency practitioners should be aware of national and local resources to guide the approach to helping identified victims. Having established protocols for victim identification, care, and referrals can greatly facilitate health care providers' assisting this population.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Human Trafficking* / prevention & control
  • Human Trafficking* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Violence / prevention & control