Missouri has the 15th highest call volume in the country on the national human trafficking hotline—that’s according to the most recent statistics provided by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Advocates for trafficking victims say this issue is flying largely under the radar in Springfield.
Dawn Day is a charge nurse in the Emergency Department at Mercy Hospital in Springfield.
“I have seen victims of human trafficking come in for other complaints, and I have been able to spot it,” she said.
Day trains other medical professionals how to identify victims of human trafficking. Here are some of the red flags:
They come to the hospital with average health problems
“They will not come in stating they are human trafficking victims. They will come in for other things, like, ‘My wrist hurts. My elbow hurts.’ They might come in with a urinary tract infection,” she said.
Victims won’t know much about their current location
One of the first red flags, she said, is that the patient won’t know much about their location, since trafficking victims are frequently moved from place to place.
But there’s a strategic way to seek that information, Day said.
“You’re not questioning. You’re not probing,” she said. “It’s, ‘Hey! Oh, have you ever been to Silver Dollar City? What’s your favorite thing about that?’ Some people will think that’s a town and not know it’s an amusement park,” she said.
They will be unfamiliar with streets or popular restaurants.
They are often tattooed or branded
“The number one marking that you will see with human trafficking victims is that they will have a serial number on them, like a bar code,” Day said.
“That is the biggest red flag that you are going to have for a human trafficking victim,” she said.
Traffickers also brand their victims with gang signs.
“A lot of times they don’t look professionally done. And it doesn’t look like a butterfly or a rainbow. It looks like some other kind of branding mark,” Day said.
At that point, a medical professional can casually ask whether the tattoo is significant to the person.
They will not have proper identification or paperwork
“They will not provide a Social Security card. They will not have an ID,” Day said.
They may have a story to explain the absence of documents, Day said. This is most often “I just moved here,” or “I’m changing my address,” she said.
They will never be alone
“A human trafficking victim will always have someone with them. It’s not necessarily a male. Usually, it’s a female whose with them,” Day said.
It’s usually a woman who lures girls into the human trafficking circuit, Day said; often this is an individual who has been a victim herself and who now works for the man running the circuit.
Jennifer Moore is Missouri State University’s Journalist-in-Residence and a KSMU contributor focusing on public affairs journalism.