Delaware addresses human trafficking issues

DOVER – Human trafficking often hides in plain sight.

Although eight of nine victims will see a health care provider during servitude, clues aren’t always detected and the crime continues.

Delaware’s health care community continues to develop a common protocol to identify and free the enslaved, billing the program as unique nationwide.

“We hope this [becomes] the model [everywhere],” said Delaware Healthcare Association President and CEO Wayne Smith.

At a Wednesday morning news conference at the DHA office, committee members outlined ongoing efforts to combat what was described as a “scourge” and a “crime against humanity.”

The Delaware Human Trafficking Medical Committee reported several gains since forming in 2018, including more coordination within the state stakeholders, along with a multi-pronged approach involving community partners. Alignment with the Human Trafficking Interagency Coordinating Council, established by 2017 legislation, has been a key asset, officials said.

“This is an evolving, ongoing process that challenges all organizations to learn about trafficking, study the problem as it is found in their service population and develop effective screening, reporting and intervention processes,” said Leslie Brower, chairwoman of the Delaware Human Trafficking Interagency Coordinating Council.

Human Trafficking Medical Committee chairs Annamarie McDermott, left, and Dawn Culp discuss statewide issues Wednesday morning. (Submitted photo/Delaware Healthcare Association)

According to St. Francis Hospital social worker/committee co-chair Annamarie McDermott, “Through a year-long process of research and shared learning, the committee has developed recommendations for each hospital to implement that include education and step-by-step protocols designed to empower hospital employees to identify the signs of human trafficking and to respond to the victim in a trauma-informed, patient centered manner.”

Work remains and the committee reviewed recommendations for developing further coordination among Delaware’s hospitals, all represented at the meeting. The approach includes:

• Educating staff through training facilitated by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, or similar content.

• Providing clinicians questions to assess potential indications of a problem. Adults are covered within this model.

• Using a step-by-step process to recognize and respond to suspected trafficking, including links to key resources.

• Data collection on human trafficking designed to assist future responses and utilize available resources. Using codes is a key point with hospitals urged to use an American Hospital Association fact sheet and training.

• Assessing suspected juvenile cases through a Child Protection Accountability Commission memorandum, with hospitals urged to contact their legal department to properly handle documentation.

Trafficking prosecution

Committee co-chairwoman and Bayhealth Medical Center forensic nurse examiner Dawn Culp outlined a case when a 15-year-old chronic runaway was freed two years ago.

The girl was initially located in Ocean City, Maryland during a shoplifting incident and brought to Bayhealth for a medical screen. The triage nurse thought something may be amiss and a senior nurse was called in. The girl recounted her start in a community laundry room, followed by travel to Pennsylvania and Ocean City.

A gang member was then identified as a trafficking suspect, police were contacted and the Department of Justice prosecuted the case into a 20-year prison sentence.

Delaware legislators are pushing House Bill 102 that “[a]llows a person who is arrested or convicted of any crime, except a violent felony, which was a direct result of being a victim of human trafficking may file an application or for a pardon or expungement or make a motion to vacate judgment.

“This bill also makes changes to the Human Trafficking Interagency by adding another member of the judicial branch and a representative of the Department of Education.

“This bill also adds locations where a public awareness sign must be placed.”

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