Sara Pomeroy started the month of December out with a speaking engagement at Johnston-Willis Hospital located on the south side of Richmond. While a smaller audience than what she is use to, Sara always welcomes the opportunity to educate the public on human trafficking. And of late, she is receiving more and more invitations from those within the medical profession who desire a greater understanding of human trafficking and what those victims look like should those victims come into their Emergency Rooms or be admitted to their hospitals. Health care providers play a vital role in identifying and helping trafficking victims.
On this particular day, Sara spoke before the nurses who work in the Pre-Admission Testing for Surgery Department. The invitation was extended by Ms. Cindy Burgess – who, after hearing about the issue of human trafficking from another staff member of Richmond Justice Initiative, felt it was important that the other nurses she worked with become educated on this issue as well. Sara’s title for the discussion: “Look Beneath the Surface: Role of Healthcare Providers in Identifying and Helping Victims of Human Trafficking”. She began by asking the women if they had any clear knowledge or understanding of human trafficking. Most of those in attendance shook their heads in a “no” response. Those few who had heard of human trafficking, heard about it largely from television. As Sara went on to explain human trafficking and to provide the statistics of its occurrence, locally and worldwide, the room was filled with sounds and remarks of surprise. She discussed how someone falls into sex trafficking and how traffickers press their victims into lives of servitude and abuse. Sara shared the story of Holly Smith as an example. Holly is a local resident and survivor of sex trafficking , which she was forced into at the age of 14. The attendees were very interested in hearing Holly’s story, asking a number of questions as to how she managed to escape.
Sara continued her presentation by discussing how to identify human trafficking victims, the signs to look out for should such victims enter their hospital, signs such as: avoiding eye contact, anxiety, depression, signs of abuse, medical neglect and/or has someone speaking for him/her. She also discussed what the health issues trafficking victims are likely to face such as: malnourishment, anemia, pregnancy, consequences of a previous abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases. Finally, Sara explained the special considerations when working with trafficking victims, so that those in the medical profession would know just how to communicate with the patient they suspect is being forced into trafficking. She provided clear instruction on who to contact in order to get the victims the help they need. Because the size of the group in attendance, the women had the opportunity to ask questions and make comments throughout the presentation, being very interested in the subject. The one point that Sara always makes clear at the end of her presentations, is that each and everyone in attendance CAN make a difference in the fight to end human trafficking. – Tina Nyczepir