Human trafficking in the emergency department: Improving our response to a vulnerable population

Jennifer Tiller, Stacy Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Human trafficking is a human rights violation affecting millions worldwide. Victims may go unrecognized during their emergency department (ED) visit, and may lose the opportunity to address their complex needs. Using a published toolkit based on existing guidelines and recommendations from experts, and models from other centers, we describe the implementation of an ED response protocol. In following the recommendations of the toolkit, we began with attempts to fully understand the local human trafficking problem and then networked with those working in anti-trafficking efforts. Collaboration with other specialties is highlighted as a key part of this process. Building upon the knowledge gained from these steps, we were able to develop a concise protocol to guide members of our department in more effectively caring for known or suspected victims of human trafficking. The first section of the protocol addresses ways in which providers can identify at-risk patients through both screening questions and general observations. Interviewing techniques are outlined with an emphasis on patient-centered and trauma-informed care. Additionally, the protocol discusses physician responsibility in documenting encounters and legal reporting, which may vary depending on location. We stress the importance of meeting the needs of the patient while prioritizing the safety of all involved. Additionally, the protocol provides a list of resources for the patient beyond medical care such as emergency housing, legal assistance, and food pantries. The overall purpose of this protocol is to provide coordinated response so that all providers may be consistent in caring for this vulnerable population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-554
Number of pages6
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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