Suffolk County Legislator Dr. William Spencer announced steps Wednesday to counter human trafficking that he said was “disturbing and happening right here” on Long Island.
At a press conference at Huntington Hospital, Spencer said that medical professionals can take steps to identify and help those who have been trafficked. He cited a study that concluded that 88% of human trafficking survivors had had contact with the healthcare system but were not recognized as victims.
“If we train health professionals on trafficking, we can help equip them to intervene and provide a path from victimhood to survival,” Spencer said.
He said Dr. Santhosh Paulus had taken a leadership role in a pilot program at Huntington Hospital to train medical professionals to identify victims of sex or labor trafficking. The training will be rolled out to other hospitals in the Northwell Health system.
Paulus said, “It breaks my heart” that people are are suffering because of trafficking, and that he hoped that training would help people regain their health and return to normal lives.
Spencer was the sponsor of legislation passed unanimously Tuesday night by the Suffolk County Legislature mandating that the county health department provide information to medical professionals about human trafficking.
Training will take up to six months and combines computer and live training. It will teach medical professionals to spot signs of possible trafficking, such as a person seeking medical treatment who does not seem to be in control of their own funds or personal documents, or is accompanied by a person who answers doesn’t allow the patient to answer questions. When trafficking is suspected, other “champions” will be brought into the case, who will pursue further information and try to ensure the individual’s safety.
Judy Richter, a member of the task force, said that about five individuals–four at Huntington Hospital, one at the Dolan Family Health Center– have already been identified as possible victims because of the training received through the pilot program.
Spencer said that while sex trafficking often gets more attention, abuse of labor is higher in Suffolk County than in other parts of the country. He said workers brought into the country are told they owe large sums of money when they arrive, and are then forced to work off the debt for years.