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Doctors Critical to Human Trafficking Fight

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Mary Shedden
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida Matters this week took a deeper look at human trafficking, including the role physicians in the state play in identifying those at risk, and treating those who have been victimized.

Health care professionals are trained to look for warning signs, said Dr. Maulik Trivedi of Florida Medical Clinic’s Behavioral Health division in Wesley Chapel. He joined Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Connie Rose, a human trafficking survivor and director of survivor programming and leadership for Selah Freedom

The FMC Foundation of Caring and WUSF Public Radio hosted the panel discussion on human traffickingincluding the excerpt below:

Dr. MAULIK TRIVEDI:  All physicians and healthcare providers are trained as mandated reporters in this state, so anytime that you suspect something that doesn’t look right to you, all you have to do is alert the authorities that investigate these situations.

So really, it’s an idea that you’re not responsible for proving to a court of law that abuse is taking place, or human trafficking is being questioned. You really have to alarm the authorities and the agency, whose job it is to investigate these and take proper action.

CARSON COOPER: And most victims, from what I’ve read, end up in the ER or in a clinic at some point, so doctors in a way could be the frontline as far as detecting human trafficking…Ms. Bondi, you’re shaking your head?

PAM BONDI: I’m smiling because I was so proud: the emergency room physicians of Florida came to me and said, “We want to help. Train us on what to look for.” And we had a case right here in Florida where, and this wasn’t a family member…she was 19. I believe, I’m not certain about this, but I believe she was recruited out of a strip club because she was a runaway or had aged out of foster care, immediately addicted to drugs…she was beaten so badly beyond recognition that her captor had to take her to the ER. 

They came up with an elaborate lie, and she went right back (from the hospital) into captivity. Because not only are they threatening her life, but they threatened the lives of the other girls who are in that home as well, who really, she’s bonded with. And if they have know, they’re threatening their children as well.

COOPER:  Connie Rose, you work with victims, what are some of the other red flags we should all look out for? Not all of us here are doctors. We’re not in the clinics looking at patients, but all of us here, all of us listening, what do we look out for? What should raise our suspicions?

CONNIE ROSE:  Look in your neighborhoods. We still have a lot of homes that are in foreclosure, so you see things that are boarded up, windows are really dark, and all of a sudden you see a lot of traffic going in and out of this home that you clearly know no one is supposed to be living there…make that phone call.

Call the (24-hour human trafficking hotline) 1-888-373-7888or call 911 and tell them what you’re seeing. That is huge.

The other is, we have to look beneath the surface.  We’re all about just looking at what’s topical. But how many of you have been at like, a McDonalds or a Dunkin Donuts, and you’re in line, drive thru, in a hurry, and there’s a motel in front of you. You see a van. You see kids getting out, and you say, “I have no time for this.” But your gut says, “Whoa. Why are all these kids coming out of this van? Why are they going in to a hotel room?” I guarantee you – they’re going in there for sex.

All you gotta do is take one second of your time, call the hotline number, call 911, tell them where you are and what’s going on.

What about that kid – and it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are – what about that child that comes home and says, “Mom, you know my best friend now all of sudden has all these things. There’s no way  her family can afford it, and none of us are loaning her these things…” Because our kids like to do that. Somebody better start investigating and finding out where is this child really getting these things.  Someone needs to pay attention and talk about that.

But more importantly, Pam touched on the Internet…one of my residents, she never had anyone physically touch her. Her total exploitation for five years was on the Internet. She was on her computer monitor; all the johns were on theirs.  And if you saw some of the things she had to partake in, I’m telling you, you would not finish eating your lunch. 

So you have to pay attention. That gut, that pit in your stomach that says something’s wrong, go with it. Make it a phone call, because if you’re right, oh my God, how many people have you just saved? If you’re wrong, oops, I’m sorry.

Hear more of the discussion taped on location at the Centre Club in Tampa on Florida Matters  Sunday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 on WUSF 89.7 FM, or online at

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Lottie Watts at 813-974-8705 (desk) or e-mail at For more health news, visit

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.
Carson Cooper has become a favorite of WUSF listeners as the host of "Morning Edition" on WUSF 89.7 since he took the job in 2000. Carson has worked in Tampa Bay radio for three decades.